A year ago today, the Carnival season had just ended. It was Ash Wednesday and T&T authorities were beginning to respond to the emergence of a highly infectious respiratory illness thousands of miles away in Wuhan, China.
The country settled into the unease of a Lenten season defined by the 14-day travel bans imposed against China, then five other countries to which the yet-unnamed disease had spread—South Korea, Italy, Japan, Iran and Singapore.
At that point, there were still many unknowns about the novel coronavirus and increasing alarm at the speed with which it was spreading across borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared a global emergency but Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was cautious about declaring a pandemic, insisting that to do so would have “no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralysing systems.”
A check of WHO statistics for this date in 2020 shows that there were 2,790 cases of the coronavirus across 37 countries, including 44 deaths.
Infectious disease experts and scientists were worried that the virus was spreading too quickly and might already be past the point of containment.
There were no cases in T&T but the point at which the coronavirus would enter our shores was just days away.
At that time Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and National Security Minister Stuart Young were both confident that T&T would not suffer an outbreak of the disease but said they would not take any chances.
“In the event that there is a serious outbreak, we must have a major medical facility which can be quarantined, locked down by security and that is where the Minister of National Security will come in,” Deyalsingh said then.
But what a difference a year makes.
The disease that became known as COVID-19 has since eradicated almost every trace of the “old normal” for citizens here and in every corner of the world. Wearing masks, physical distancing and frequent sanitising have become everyday activities.
To date, 7,697 nationals have tested positive for the disease and 139 have died but that is against a backdrop of 113,481,901 cases globally and 2,517,108 fatalities.
A year ago, no one could have envisaged the extent to which life as we know it would change, the size of losses we would suffer, or the freedoms that would be severely curtailed by that looming public health crisis. The ways we work, learn and interact have changed.
Who would ever have thought that an entire Carnival season would be cancelled, or that borders would be closed to all but specially approved flights for so long?
T&T this time last year, completely unaware that we were on the cusp of the COVID-19 crisis, was a very different place from the country we live in today.
We are now a nation hoping that the imminent arrival of vaccines against COVID-19 will provide immunity from this highly contagious disease so that life can return to some semblance of normalcy. But it is still a situation shrouded in uncertainty.
In the coming days, some grim milestones will be marked—occasions to count the cost of all that COVID-19 has taken from T&T and reflect on the lessons learned from this crisis.