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For the first time in more than a month, there was a more upbeat tone at the COVID-19 media briefing hosted by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, yesterday.

More encouraging news on the vaccine acquisition front and very preliminary indications that the country is beginning to emerge from the latest COVID-19 crisis saw the focus shifting from the usual announcements of tighter restrictions to the setting of tentative timelines for the reopening of T&T’s borders and resumption of school.

However, while the cautious optimism from government and health officials offers a glimmer of hope this should not be taken as a signal to free up.

T&T appears to have dodged a COVID-19 bullet. So far, the worst-case projections, including as many as 100 deaths a day, have been avoided. But as Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards warned, citizens should not be “prematurely comforted” by the apparent plateauing in the pandemic numbers.

While there has been a decrease in the number of COVID-positive cases requiring hospital care, occupancy levels at HDUs and ICUs remain unacceptably high, and the total number of active positive cases was 10,064 as of yesterday.

What that means is that the country is not yet even at the beginning of the end of the public health crisis.

For that reason, the curfew, which will now begin earlier on weekends, remains firmly in place as do restrictions on all but essential activities.

T&T might well be entering the most critical phase in the fight against COVID-19, where the focus shifts to getting at least 600,000 of our 1.4 million population vaccinated. If current levels of vaccine acceptance are maintained, by September 1 there might be enough fully vaccinated adults for resumption of more normal activities.

That is why one of the most important announcements yesterday was of cooperation between the State and the private sector in a “Vaccinate and Operate” initiative.

This level of cooperation is long overdue although the private sector had been indicating for some time its willingness to work with the Rowley administration in the fight against COVID-19.

Early on, the Ansa McAL Group offered help in bringing vaccines into the country and an offer also came from the Supermarkets Association of T&T (SATT). But the responses from the Government were lukewarm at best.

It is indeed good news that the sector’s support is finally being accepted, although not in the way initially envisaged.

A critical aspect of reopening the economy is ensuring the workforce can safely function without contracting and spreading COVID-19. The vaccination initiative that starts from today, where various business groups work with the Ministry of Health to get their employees vaccinated is to be applauded.

The T&T Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) gets things started today at the Divali Nagar site in Chaguanas and in the coming days other groups will roll out their efforts.

That, along with improved prospects for an uninterrupted, accelerated programme of vaccinations over the next three months should put the population in a safer, healthier place by Independence Day.

But for now, please heed the words of caution from Thoracic Medical Director at Caura Hospital Dr Michelle Trotman about continuing to follow the public health protocols. The fight is not over.