Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh.

A site in Couva has been selected for construction of a chiller for the COVID-19 vaccine. Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said on Saturday they will be going out to tender shortly for this.

“We are continuing with plans to build the chiller and a step-down at Couva,” he added.

The Ministry of Health has already engaged the T&T Medical Association to assist with the distribution programme. He said storage facilities could not be advanced before as they had been waiting to learn more about the vaccine’s characteristics.

Meanwhile, the minister said a multi-disciplinary team had been set up as part of T&T’s preparedness to receive the COVID-19 virus months ago. He said in terms of logistics, storage, IT, finance, and communications, this team is in place and has been working.

The minsiter, who was speaking at the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 media briefing, also urged citizens: “Don’t let COVID-19 parang your house this Christmas.” Like last week, the minister again appealed to people to celebrate quietly this year.

Deyalsingh said he has reached out to Roman Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon and head of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) Dr Knolly Clarke to counsel their respective congregations about the dangers of opening their homes and expanding circles to include outsiders.

He said while Christmas is a time for rejoicing, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, increased prayer and social gatherings, citizens could not afford to become complacent and let their guard down.

Pointing to the recently concluded Divali celebrations where the Hindu community heeded the call to keep the celebrations small and quiet, Deyalsingh said the infection numbers that were recorded in the weeks after indicated there had been no “serious uptick in cases that we could say was due to Divali.” Deyslsing said “the Hindu community responded brilliantly to our calls and that is how you can celebrate a holy and important festival safely. We are asking the same thing now of the Christian community and also because Christmas is celebrated by all religions and all people.”

Acknowledging the mental stress people had been experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown and the subsequent restrictions, the minister said it was a small sacrifice to make in order to preserve lives.

He said, “Consider these little sacrifices, and they are little, an investment in your future for 2021.”

Tweaking the traditional new year greeting slightly, Deyalsingh suggested, “Now we have to tell people to have a safe and healthy New Year and to try and be alive for 2021.”

Rolling out the MOH’s wish list for mid to late December, he said they wanted to see a decline in deaths; a decrease in people needing to be hospitalised; and greater protection of the elderly population whom he said would “bear the brunt of our celebration this Christmas.”

Questioned if the MOH had found any legislative framework through which the public could be charged for not adhering to public health regulations especially social distancing and restricting numbers at social gatherings, Deyalsingh said, “The Legal Department of the MOH under the suggestion of the of the Attorney General, has been conferring with the Office of the AG to see if and how that can be done.”

But he added, “We should not wait for the State to do anything punitive. What we are asking people to do is just be responsible this Christmas.”

Admitting that 80 per cent of people who contracted the virus would be able to “shrug” it off, he warned that it was in returning home after liming and partying that these people could infect their elderly relatives.

“You may think that you exist in your own little bubble but once you interact with people, you are interacting with persons of different bubbles,” Deyalsingh said.

“That is what we are scared about this December. It just takes one spark to infect one of those bubbles…it could be the small lime, it could be the gym, it could be your workplace, it could be your kids classes, it could be your partner’s job, it could be your in-laws, and that is what we are trying to avoid this December because if we start to get those sparks, the sparks grow into a wildfire where each bubble now becomes infected.”

The minister re-emphasised that COVID-19 was no respecter of socio-economic class, ethnicities, geography, and educational qualifications.

Indicating he had turned down all invitations during this season and had closed his doors to the numbers that usually drop by during the Christmas period, Deyalsingh said his family’s celebrations would also be low-key as he was a 63-year-old diabetic who did not want to spend Christmas being intubated and depending on the medical system to see a new year.