AS families prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ the grim news came on Christmas Eve that Trinidad and Tobago has recorded its worst-ever number of deaths from covid19, as 37 more people died. This surpassed two previous grim milestones earlier this month of 32 (December 15) and 33 (December 18).
The Ministry of Health’s update on Friday said, among the latest victims is a teenage girl.
The ministry also said 964 more people became infected (based on samples taken from Monday to Thursday) – the second highest daily rate after 984 cases reported on December 3.
In all, some 16,543 people across TT are now battling covid19, the majority at home in self-isolation, in this festive season.
All this came in a tumultuous week of toing and froing between the Government and labour movement over the Prime Minister’s recent proposal that government-paid employees be vaccinated by January 15 (unless medically exempted) at risk of being furloughed from their jobs.
After Dr Rowley laid down the measure at his news briefing last Saturday, the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) met with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi but with little sign of consensus on a way forward.
Accusing the PM of being “unilateral, high-handed, dictatorial” JTUM head Ancel Roget urged him to withdraw the vaccine mandate.
“We are encouraging our members to be vaccinated. But we are pro-choice.
“I myself took the vaccine, I myself believe in the science. But I believe it is the right of any individual to accept or reject and that belief is shared across the board by all members of JTUM.”
Al-Rawi, in reply, said: “The Government is not in a position to withdraw its policy statement.”
He said the fact of 2,662 people dying of covid19, the prospect of mass burials, and the doubling of omicron infections every 2.5 days meant it was essential to act quickly.
“The normal process of collective bargaining does not apply in a pandemic,” the AG added, saying the Government must act urgently to save lives.
Associations for the three protective services – police, prisons and fire – sought incentivisation for their members to be vaccinated such as extra pay and/or healthcare prioritisation.
The PM in his Christmas message urged citizens during the pandemic to be aware of not just their rights but also their responsibilities. He offered condolences to the bereaved.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her Christmas message said, “I urge everyone to continue to follow the health protocols and to please consider getting vaccinated.”
President Paula-Mae Weeks lent her support to public vaccinations in her Christmas message.
Another row has broken out regarding the disposal of the bodies of the deceased. Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram last Saturday declared plans to set up a large refrigerated storage facility in Central Trinidad to be accessed by funeral homes.
Funeral association head Keith Belgrove told Newsday the need for storage was not because of any lack of cremation capacity, but rather owing to requests for delays in funerals by deceased people’s relatives whom themselves were fighting covid19 in self-isolation.
Maha Sabha head Vijay Maharaj on Friday complained the storage facility could lead to misindentifed and/or deteriorated bodies, while Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh supported Freeport residents set to protest against the facility being set up in their area.
The grim figures came as many parents have expressed reservations about the Ministry of Education’s intent for exam-age secondary school pupils in forms 4-6 to return to physical school on January 2, forms1-3 in February (on rotation) and standard 1-4 pupils in primary schools and ECCE children due out in April.
So far Ministry of Health figures have painted a grim picture overall to date.
Since March 2020, some 2,718 people have died from covid19.
This is equivalent to how many people would die if 27 local airliners were to crash, or if all passengers in 108 large maxi-taxis died, or all pupils in three average sized secondary schools.
In all since last year, 88,944 people became infected, of whom 69,863 recovered. Some 499,573 people have been tested, including 218,806 at private facilities.
Some 508 people are now in hospital, 200 in step-down facilities, 38 in state quarantine facilities, and 14,871 in home self-isolation.
Regarding vaccination, some 659,347 people had the first of a two-dose regime, and 616,664 the second dose. Some 47,884 people had a single-dose regime.
In all, 664,548 people are fully vaccinated, whether by a two-dose or one-dose regime.
Otherwise, some 66,673 people have had an additional primary dose (known as a booster.)
The update said data from July 22-December 8 showed 87.5 per cent of patients in the parallel healthcare system had not been fully vaccinated, (that is, 8,156 out of 9,321.)
Figures show people are dying and getting infected at a faster and faster rate, even as TT has detected only a handful of cases of the highly transmissible omicron strain which still looms large.
From December 1-24, some 560 people died, compared to 462 deaths in all of November. So far this month has seen 16,199 new infections, compared to 14,032 for all of last month.
On average in December, 23 people died each day and 674 were infected, compared to an average in November of 15 deaths per day and 467 infections.