PRIME MINISTER Rowley and Tourism Minister MP Randall Mitchell, via public announcements, have further whetted the public’s appetite for the staging of niche Carnival activities next year. In fact, Senator Mitchell has gone a step further by indicating that he has submitted specific proposals to Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram for his approval.
Unless I am missing something, those proposals are laced with public health measures to ensure the safety of performers and patrons who attend these events and would include the need to be fully vaccinated, the wearing of masks, physical distancing and the like.
While I totally support the need for Trinidadians/Tobagonians to exhale in a manner that does not result in a deterioration of our present precarious situation with the covid19 virus, I am at a loss as to why I have not seen any reference to inclusion of rapid antigen tests in the protection armamentarium, given that these have been making headlines in many jurisdictions familiar to TT nationals – US, Canada, Australia and other Caricom states.
The rapid tests, after all, get to the base of the public health concern: is the person seeking to enter a country, a public or private venue, even the homes of relatives or friends infectious? This is a concern that cannot be answered by full vaccination, negative PCR tests, antibody tests and so on.
The rapid antigen test has been used widely by countries in Europe where it is credited with reducing the extent and depth of delta variant spread, when compared to the US and Canada. Over the past three-four months the latter have appreciated the error of their ways and have introduced policies and plans to make the test available to the man in the street.
In the recently announced restrictions on travelling to the US, a rapid test taken within 24 hours of entry is one of the conditions for entry. Since reopening of TT’s official borders, nationals have been using test for travel to the US and therefore residents are not unfamiliar with it.
I am also a fan of American football and seeing 100,000 inebriated, screaming fans at a stadium reminds me of a Carnival event in TT – no masks or concern about physical distancing. Screening for entry into these venues has become big business in the US and many companies have been birthed for this purpose.
Cost is a problem and US President Biden has moved to flood the market by ordering one billion tests to be made available to the public, a move to bring the cost/test down. In TT currently, the cost of a rapid antigen test is in excess of $300. This is gross profiteering since the cost of BinaxNOW, the most popular of the antigen self tests in the US, is US$24 for a two-pack. It can be added to the cost of a ticket for entry into an officially approved venue for about $100; event seekers will readily pay. If on arrival at a venue a ticket holder fails the test, he/she can be refunded the cost of the ticket.
Being fully vaccinated may be a requirement for entry into an event venue, but studies have shown that vaccine breakthroughs are not uncommon. There is also the difficulty of enforcing mask-wearing and physical distancing when the event is in progress.
Given all of the above, my view is that the CMO should strongly consider adding rapid antigen tests as a condition for approval of the proposed niche events. The Government should move swiftly to provide the wherewithal, ie, put policies and regulations in place to truly ensure the public’s safety and reduce the profiteering that is presently rampant in the provision of these tests.
It may be too late for Christmas events but Carnival events are certainly within range.