CHIEF Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram said the emergence of a new strain of covid19 in other countries has left him feeling as if TT was now having to restart its efforts to curb any influx of the virus, especially the new strain.
He was questioned, with other public officials, on Wednesday at a virtual sitting of Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Local Authorities, Service Commissions and Statutory Authorities Committee, chaired by Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh. It was examining anti-covid19 measures at TT’s airports.
“It feels like we’re starting over,” Parasram acknowledged. He explained a need to stay flexible and open-minded as more and more is learnt about the new strain in the coming weeks.
“We must keep the new strain out of TT,” he warned.
He reckoned that if the new strain becomes aerosolised (airborne transmission), better masks such as the N95 mask will have to be used, in an upgrade from the current surgical masks.
Parasram said he was also exploring the idea of the voluntary wearing of bracelet tags by individuals entering TT who were all mandated to be in quarantine for 14 days. Asked about reports from other Caribbean islands of tourists breaking quarantine to go and mingle after simply cutting off the devices, he said any tags utilised in TT would be fitted with a means to signal a police station if the device was cut.
Saying the new strain was 50 per cent more infectious than the original, he said he would recommend the use of face shields and N95 masks to add another layer of protection against the new strain, but not for the existing strain unless you were in a high-risk environment.
Replying to a question from Deyalsingh, Parasram said the first vaccines would be offered to workers at ports, immigration, customs and the health service; members of the police, fire service and Defence Force; people over 60; and people with non-communicable diseases.
Airports Authority general manager Hayden Newton said vigilance has already been stepped up at airports, including having more staff ensure social distancing and mask-wearing among travellers.
Committee member Jayanti Lutchmedial asked about the chance of the new strain entering TT. Acting County Medical Officer for Health Dr Osafo Fraser said the fact any incoming traveller to TT first requires a negative PCR before being allowed entry helps to mitigate the chance of an infected person entering TT.