After six months of stringent protocols, ‘pauses’, and curfews, the country’s chief infection specialist believes the time has come for a “slow, deliberate process” of returning to greater levels of normalcy.
Head of Infection Control at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) Dr. Corey Forde is however warning, that the country is not yet “out of the woods” and any deviation from the established protocols will land the country back at square one.
During an interview with Barbados TODAY, Forde, who also manages the country’s COVID-19 isolation facilities, declared that with new infections now at a minimum, the burden of maintaining the situation would shift from healthcare officials to the general public.
This, he said, includes maintaining high numbers of testing, increasing the percentage of fully vaccinated citizens and adhering to social and physical distancing, even at entertainment events that are apparently soon to be permitted.
“Everybody wants to fly, everybody wants to get back on the cruise… and I hear all sorts of things about parties and what’s not, but if we are going to get back to a level of normalcy, people have to follow the protocols and have to stay in line, and we can do it,” Forde told Barbados TODAY.
“I think it needs to be a slow, deliberate process. Yes, we might get back to doing things that we did before, but once it is slow, deliberate and based on science, that’s fine.
“A lot of Barbadians would say it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health and they are right. That’s true, and there is nothing wrong with saying that, but Barbadians have a larger responsibility that, as we start to get back into some level of normalcy, they too need to play their part. They need to wear their masks, they need to go and get vaccinated, they need to follow all of the protocols, use hand hygiene and appropriate distance,” added the infection control specialist.
Over the last few weeks, the country’s COVID-19 statistics have almost mirrored the situation prior to the massive spike in cases at the start of the new year. According to the latest COVID-19 statistics, there are 12 people in isolation including one new case recorded on Friday.
Dr. Forde, however, admitted there was not enough evidence to determine there was no longer community spread.
The current directive, which ends on June 29th, includes a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew from Thursday to Saturday as well as a total ban of nightclubbing, parties, bus crawls, karaoke, and other events. Meanwhile, bars, pleasure craft and boat charters are allowed to operate at no more than 50 per cent of capacity.
There, however, appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for entertainment event promoters, who, earlier this week, were assured that events with up to 150 patrons would soon be facilitated, with the intention of gradually increasing the numbers.
According to Dr Forde, the changing tide presents another perfect opportunity for the country to showcase a model for returning to normal in the midst of the global virus situation.
“I think we have a unique opportunity yet again to show the world how to do it and we have in the first part of the pandemic. Much of the globe at this point is following what Barbados did months ago. There were times that we got [criticised] because people were wondering where we got certain things from and saying that it didn’t make sense. Much of the globe – Canada, the UK and the US, they followed what we did months after,” Dr Forde declared.
The infection control specialist further noted that the existence of a new COVID-19 (Delta) Variant of Concern, which is said to be more than 60 per cent more transmissible, is even more reason for persons to double down on existing best practices.
“The ways of transmission are still the same, so to prevent the transmission of the virus will be the same. To me, the key point is that we must maintain those strategies of vaccination, social and physical distancing. We are talking about parties, so we are talking about social distancing now as opposed to just physical distancing and appropriate hygiene practices,” said Dr Forde.
“And, the part which is often missed is in testing. When you feel sick, or when you go to the doctor, or have a cough or cold, get tested and I think that needs to be the drive in Barbados at this point, especially among the young people.
“We as a country also need to encourage our population to be vaccinated. If you want to get back to a level of normalcy, this is but one of the important things that will allow us to get there,” he concluded.