Secretary for the Division of Health, Wellness, and Family Development Tracy Davidson-Celestine has urged Tobagonians to brace for community spread after the confirmation of the island's first covid19 delta variant case.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Ministry of Health detected six new cases of the delta variant. One case was identified from a Tobago sample.
"It was inevitable," Davidson-Celestine told Newsday moments after the ministry's announcement in a phone interview.
In a media release, Davidson-Celestine said, “We need to brace ourselves for the community spread. This is the first case we know of and its origins are unknown.”
Delta can be four times more transmissible than the P1 (Brazilian) variant, which was confirmed in Tobago in July.Although countries battling delta community spread have reported a spike in covid19 deaths and hospitalisation, Davidson-Celestine encouraged Tobagonians not to panic.
"If people are cautious, meticulous of how they communicate with others – that is, in terms of following those social distancing rules and washing their hands and becoming vaccinated – we shouldn't have any significant challenges going forward."
Asked if she is worried, Davidson-Celestine said, "I'm not going to say that I am worried at this time.
"I will say that I'm more concerned with those who have not yet been vaccinated. They are the ones who need specialist medical (care), they are the ones who are filling up our ICU, and they are the ones who are basically taking up the bed spaces at the hospital.
"So I'm more concerned that they have not yet heeded the call to be vaccinated to save their lives and their family at this moment."
Health officials had put things in place for the delta variant's arrival, she said."For some time now Tobago has been preparing for the delta. We tried our best to prevent occurrence, but if it is that people keep coming in and going with the borders open, we know that this would at some point in time be present in Tobago.
"We have a very robust health care system, in the sense that we have been able to create a parallel health care approach to managing the virus. We now have fully-trained medical practitioners onboard, and apart from that, we are also working on upgrades and improvements to the existing facilities in case more persons become ill."
But although the health division is ready, she stressed that vaccination remains the best form of preparation for the variant.
Since the launch of the national vaccination programme, the island has achieved 68 per cent of its target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population. A total of 21,187 people have had thevaccine in Tobago. Of these, 18,310 people are now fully vaccinated.
Davison-Celestine acknowledged covid19 vaccination in Tobago is an uphill battle, but said there has been a steady increase of people willing to take the vaccine. More testing for the delta variant in Tobago will continue.
Responding to claims about the health division's readiness, Progressive Democratic Patriots deputy leader Dr Faith BYisrael said, "The fact that the sample has been collected a week ago and had to be sent to Trinidad and we are now collecting the results is worrying."She said Tobago's ability to detect the virus and respond to reduce the infection rate remains inefficient, unreliable and unacceptable. "This is something we knew was coming, and like everything else involving covid19, we were not prepared."
She suggests the island's health system should take time to improve its health education strategy and communication ability.