#31 The impact of COVID-19 on Trinidad and Tobago

#30 Beyond the post-Covid narrative
06/10/2021
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29/10/2021

Impact of COVID-19 on the Caribbean

EURA Conversations Post #31 – 18 October 2021
by Gabrielle Thongs, Department of Geography, the University of West Indies

A cool ocean breeze, the slow rustle of the coconut tree, and the gentle rhythmic call of a kiskadee. Those are the sounds that usually wake me in the morning. Since the beginning of the pandemic, though, those soothing sounds have been replaced by the loud, jarring sirens of ambulances. In Julia Kozebue’s EURA Conversation #26 published in June, she indicated that Trinidad and Tobago were keeping the COVID-19 infections and deaths comparatively low. Unfortunately, since then, the state of affairs have deteriorated.

In early May, the daily average death rate was 2-3 persons. Today, with the presence of two variants of COVID-19, that is, the Gamma and Delta variants, the active cases and daily deaths have significantly increased. In June, we hit a record high of 10,000 active cases and 25 deaths in one day. As of the end of September 2021, we have recorded a total of 51,000 cases.

Another sharp cut to our people has been the true realisation of how geo-politics play out. COVID-19 vaccine availability has been a glaring revelation of the actual relationship between the developed world, and the many still-developing nations. During the vaccine acquisition process, equity disappeared, and talks of sharing only surfaced after developed nations had ensured enough vaccines for their populations. This led to developing nations, such as Trinidad and Tobago, living under stringent lockdown measures, for months at a time, with no sure timeline as to when it will be over. Assuredly proving that vaccine inequity mirrored other sociopolitical global inequities.

For instance, the first significant batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Trinidad on the last day of March 2021. This is 4 – 5 months after vaccination roll-out began in United States and Europe. In March of 2021, the COVAX Facility was our sole source of COVID-19 vaccines.  The first COVAX batch consisted of 33,600 doses of Astra-Zeneca COVID-19 vaccines. Therefore, only providing the full dosage for 16,800 adults. A far cry from what was needed for a population of 1.4 million persons.

As time passed, and the developed countries no longer required large volumes of vaccines, multiple vaccines sources became available. The most significant of these being the Sinopharm vaccine. In July 2021, 800,000 vaccines were purchased from the Beijing Institute of Biological Products Co. Limited. These vaccines arrived during our third lockdown cycle.

Given the present day access to COVID-19 vaccines, the urban hubs of this Caribbean state that were once bare of traffic and the sound of people hustling from one place to another, are gradually returning to “pre-Covid normalcy”. I say gradually since many vacated shops and stores litter urban centres as they were unable to cope with the underlying economic cost of the three lockdown cycles.

This pandemic has also cost us emotionally. To date over fifteen hundred lives have been lost, and everyone now knows someone who will not be here when this is finally over. Sadly, I too count in that number. I have lost a former student, as well as dear colleague. Both lost their lives as a result of the COVID-19 virus. Their smiles, sense of humour, and positive aura could instantly light up any room. I always wonder, had there been accelerated access to vaccines, would these lives have been lost?

In the next contribution to EURA Conversations Alistair Jones considers whether, in the light of what happened during the pandemic, teaching in universities needs to change permanently.