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TCI Governor on the Science of COVID-19; Statement made April 1

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#TurksandCaicosIslands – FULL STATEMENT :

Good evening Turks and Caicos, it’s the Governor speaking, speaking on behalf of both myself and also the Premier. The Premier will talk on Friday about the support and stimulus package.

From me a Wednesday evening update for you. This is our fifth day of lockdown and curfew.  So far so good – and the first thing to say is thank you. We are collectively doing the right thing.  It’s causing, we know, inconvenience and in some cases serious hardship.  Most people I speak to understand instinctively why we are doing this but we thought we would use tonight to try and describe the underpinning facts of why we are doing what we are doing.

The Science:

If you can bear it, a quick science lesson – because it’s the science that is guiding us on this. You’ll have heard lots of people describe ‘flattening the curve’.  As far as I can, I want to describe to you what that means and why what we are doing does this.

All virus’s spread at different rates.  There is a scientific scale of measuring infection – this isn’t random – so, for example, measles is ‘nine’ which means that we would expect one measles case to infect nine others.  For Influenza the infection rate is 1.3.  If the rate is ‘one’ then one person infects one other person.  A figure less than ‘one’ means the disease is in decline and may die out.   

COVID19 is thought to be around 2.2. Much less infectious than measles but considerably more infectious than influenza. What this means is that, on average, one infected person passes it on to 2.2 other people. As with all statistics that quote averages this means that there may be many people that only pass it on to one, and one person that passes it on to many, but as I say the global average is 2.2

You see this in the way COVID19 spreads. One person infects two, two people infect four, those four infect eight (in fact because it’s an infection rate of 2.2 it’s now starting to become more than simply doubling) so let’s say that eight cases becomes 17 and then 17 becomes 37. You get the picture, we now have a very dramatic rise as we saw in Italy and in cities such as New York.  It’s out of the cage and it’s spreading and multiplying at a factor of 2.2. Not good.

The number one purpose of everything you are doing is to change the maths on this spread. What we need to do is bring this down from 2.2 to certainly under 1.5, in truth we want to get it to under one.  But Below 1.5 we can start to impose ourselves on this virus and bring it under control. We have to do that because our medical services can manage a much flattened curve but they couldn’t possibly manage the sort of increase I described as it grew at 2.2

The good news is that all the medical opinion we can draw on – here in the Island, public and private, and that expertise we can draw on elsewhere, including some very eminent epidemiologists in the UK, tell us that TCI is doing all the right things to achieve this. We got ahead of it and we clamped down on it, and if we can hold the line we are going to not only get through but present an example to the world about how to do this.

Separate to this there is a secondary benefit. The better the lockdown we achieve, the more chance there will be that we generate in the population a slow-burn immunity that builds over time. These will be people who have in some way been exposed to the virus but have either had no symptoms or very mild symptoms. 

It’s reasonable I think for us to assume, given how large our tourist sector was, that the virus must have been on the Islands before it was first properly identified. Some immunity will have been starting to develop.  

With testing – coming in from the UK and also being procured from the US – there’s sophisticated modelling that can explain this and as we reach a tipping point we will know that. While there will continue to be cases in TCI, there will be sufficient immunity in the population to prevent its rapid spread here. We will be seeking data to make smart decisions around this.

With the Territory having developed its own immunity – with the borders still closed – we can start to restart the local economy and get money moving through and round it. Businesses will be able to open. Fear of each other will subside.

Indeed, these Islands are small enough, the measures we have all taken together restrictive enough, and the data we may be able to collect around immunity important enough, that it may well be that TCI becomes an example of how to do this – that does our brand – as an extraordinary place and a healthy place to visit – no end of good.

It also allows us to start to see a medium term future where a tourist visiting TCI who we know is safe can come to an extraordinary destination that they know is not only beautiful, but is safe. But let’s be honest with each other that’s some way off in the future although something we are working towards.

Adjustment to the Regulations

Laws can help moderate and guide behaviour but it’s by far best when a people know why they are doing something than be told to do something. Self-denial, self-discipline and good judgement are so much more powerful than say the threat of vehicle confiscation. Please, err on the side of caution. Because you can do something doesn’t mean you necessarily should do something. 

We said we’d keep everything we were doing under review and we have been. Broadly we think we are in the right place.  Matters that have now become clearly the way to do things – which haven’t caused enormous inconvenience but have severely cut down traffic and movement – we yesterday captured in law; so, for example, you may not drive to your place of exercise.

We have removed takeaways, drive-throughs and restaurants from being described as an essential service. From the last few days it’s clear they aren’t – we can get by until the end of this period without them, wonderful as they are.

We do it based on medical and Policing advice.  With TCI Islanders and Residents being the sociable society we are, some risk becoming the equivalent of the local bar, the spot some meet and engage, and it also gives a license for movement we could not reasonably police.

This covers every form of takeaway, no exceptions.  There is the possibility of the Governor granting exceptions but I think that will be unlikely over this period of lockdown unless it’s in direct support of an effort to alleviate hunger.

It’s also now clear in the law that you have to be on a route from your home to your allowed destination (a supermarket is the best example). Much of this ‘law’ wasn’t required because people were demonstrating great common sense but it is a tidying up exercise for those who might take advantage, a week or so in.  Beyond that we’ve kept matters very much as they are. It’s working.

We had an interesting piece of false news start to generate today. It wasn’t malicious just wrong and it originated from a South African website – that isn’t a recognised authority on medical statistics. 

To be clear, we still have only 5 (five) confirmed cases in TCI.  The authoritative way to know – what our health professionals on the front line know – is the TCI dashboard that we disseminate daily and is on the MOH website. Please stick to TCI sources, we hold the data because we collect the data. We want the public to know.

This wasn’t malicious or dangerous it was just wrong. There have though been several instances on social media recently that haven’t just been wrong they’ve been dangerous. Before focussing on the tiny number who are malicious amongst us, let me say somethuing about the vast majority.

This is not the time to stifle decent debate – indeed the future of these Islands are starting to be decided during this time in terms of whether we remain safe, recover, and can once again prosper. 

But what this short period is not, is an opportunity for us to stigmatise anyone who has COVID19. For all you know you may be one of the fortunate that had it, suffered few if any symptoms, but passed it on to others. Or – if we all lose control of this through our casualness – it’s very probably true that it will be someone very close to you, who you love, that ends up with this virus. It doesn’t discriminate.

If you see someone originating or spreading hate or misinformation, designed to cause fear, then there is now a Police Unit – well skilled in following leads across the internet – that you can report to. Their email is: pofscovid19@tcipolice.tc. That’s pofscovid19@tcipolice.tc

Stopping the Sloops

I’ll finish on one point I flagged yesterday on Social Media. A large sloop of many hundreds was turned around yesterday on the High Seas between here and Haiti. I was on a call today with the US Ambassador and US Coast Guard in Bahamas; the number of combined assets we have operating presently in this space has significantly increased.  That frustrating battle continues every night – we should be more proud of those involved in this work tonight, than ever. But for those who can connect to Haiti do send them the message. You have our continued attention and you will be stopped.

As of tonight we are okay. We are in a much better position than many others. In terms of health, we can see a route through this, not through hope but through understanding the science, determined to capitalise by doing this once and doing this right. That’s what you are doing TCI; you are a resilient lot and resilience is the order of the day for the next few weeks. The reward is there if we stay firm; as firm we must.

Day five is drawing to a close and day six is soon to begin – soon we will be announcing the end of the first week. We can do this.

Good night TCI

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Health

Woman dies on Tuesday; 32nd Covid Death for Turks & Caicos

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

#TurksandCaicos, January 20, 2022 – The Turks and Caicos has recorded its 32nd death related to COVID-19.

A Ministry of Health press release informed that the individual who was in quarantine in Grand Turk and requested emergency aid on Tuesday; response came from the public health team in Grand Turk.

The person, who we are told is a special needs young woman – was unvaccinated and had underlying medical conditions.

The death rate in the Turks and Caicos of both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons has climbed alarmingly this year.  In the 21-month period from March 2020 when the country recorded its first case to December 2021, there were 26 deaths recorded in the TCI.

In the 19 days since the start of 2022 that number has increased to 32; which means six deaths already in January.

 

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Bahamas News

Cruising should slow down says PAHO

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

‘Slow down on Cruising’, that’s the word from the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO in their latest recent press conference.

Dr. Ciro Ugarte Director of Health Emergencies at the PAHO was referring to the Bahamas but made sure to note that the advice was highly relevant to many countries in the times of omicron.

“In the context of intense transmission, due to the Omicron variant as we have highlighted several times. It is just logical to suspend or at least limit the cruise ship traffic as an outbreak on board might end up exceedingly high and probably will go beyond the capacity of local health services”

Both the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos are experiencing a massive uptick in cases and several warnings regarding cruise travel have been issued by the US Centers for Disease Control.

Cruising just resumed for many regional countries this past Summer, Turks and Caicos was among the latest to restart on December 13.

A stop to sailing would be devastating to economies, however, ports of call like Grand Turk which are reeling with rocketing case numbers of COVID are urged to consider the suggestion of slowing down on ships by PAHO.

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Caribbean News

Understanding Sargassum with help from the TCI’s Department of Environment & Coastal Resources  

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By Sherrica Thompson

Staff Writer

 

#TurksandCaicos, January 20, 2022 – Sargassum, also known as seaweed, is a natural brown macroalga that lives in temperate and tropical oceans of the world. The floating micro eco-system is important to many species, including baby turtles, little crabs, and tiny fish. All these animals use the floating rafts of the sargassum for protection, shelter, and food.

Over the years, sargassum has been increasing its quantity in the Caribbean due to climate change. As water temperatures increase, sargassum blooms, and as this continues, it occurs in large amounts. This can be dangerous for some marine life because when seaweed washes up on the shore, some species become trapped in the sargassum mat.

Environmental Outreach Coordinator at the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources for TCI, Amy Avenant, says the Turks and Caicos Islands has not seen the worst of the overgrowth.

“In the Turks and Caicos Islands, we have not seen the full severity of sargassum blooms. Our neighbours in Bonaire, for example, experience up to six feet of sargassum, and they have found stranded dolphins, sea turtles, and sometimes even birds,” said Amy Avenant.

“When the sargassum washes up on shore, it starts to decompose, and when it decomposes, it emits methane, and that is the stinky sulfuric eggy smell that you can smell when you walk past it on the beach. It is a bad thing for climate change because of the methane, but it is not harmful to your health.”

Turks and Caicos saw this in extreme amounts in October; so severe, resorts were forced to bag and bury the stinky seaweed which for over a week covered the usually sandy white stretch of Grace Bay beach.

Avenant noted that in the TCI, we have a balance between managing the influx of sargassum and impacting the areas where it lands because its influx is correlated to the cycles of the moon.

She also said sargassum can be used as a fertilizer in farming. If you collect it, the advice is to spread it out and ensure you wash the excess salt off before adding to your gardens or farms.

There are also hidden dangers and habitat threats to the piles of sargassum on shorelines.

Avenant informed, when you see sargassum on the beach, ensure you watch out for wildlife that might be stuck and species which might have made a home of the ocean’s deposit which has washed up, this is heightened on rocky shores.

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