Covid-19: A Year Later

Anything taken out of its true context can often paint a picture that is more drastic and dramatic than is actually the case. As I pen this letter to the People of the Turks and Caicos Islands on behalf of the Executive Government (Cabinet), we can assure you that today we are in a far better place than we were a year ago. Comparison is often the best way to give any proper context and we will attempt to do so now.

  • A year ago, we were in the midst of a New Year’s surge in active Covid 19 cases much like we are today. But there is a huge difference in where we are as a country today.
  • A year ago, we did not have one resident vaccinated compared to us having an over 80% vaccination rate of the adult population.
  • A year ago, entry for visitors required a negative COVID test within 5 days of arrival, today every visitor is required to have a test within 3 days and must be fully vaccinated.
  • A year ago, the dominant variant in the TCI was Delta, and today Omicron is likely to be the dominant variant.

To drive that point home on January 7th, 2021 the dashboard looked like this: 150 active cases and 4 hospitalizations. January 7th, 2022 the dashboard showed 448 active cases and 2 hospitalizations. Though we had 3 times more cases on that day than a year ago, we had half the hospitalizations. That is a factor of 6 i.e. you are 6 times less likely to be hospitalized if infected by Omicron versus the more severe delta variant. Let that sink in. Having such a high vaccination rate means though the virus is rapidly spreading, it is doing so through a more protected population against hospitalization.

In 2021 the previous highs would have been on February 10th, where the dashboard showed 394 active cases and 13 hospitalizations. Again, those are the hallmarks of the Delta Variant and at the point we could safely have said that the Healthcare system was being overwhelmed. Today, while we remain vigilant and responsive rather than reactive, we are miles away from that point.

Another big difference is that the economy was in recovery a year ago versus our now booming economy which has been enhanced with the implementation of several health measures and protocols including the entry of vaccinated visitors only. The arrivals for January 2021 totaled 16,180 passengers. Compare that to October 2021: 32,582 passengers, November 2021: 44,108 passengers and December 2021: over 50,000 passengers.

We have doubled and tripled the number of arrivals for the comparative period yet had far less hospitalizations and similar total positive cases even though Omicron which is likely in the TCI is far more infectious than the delta variant. Let us be clear, folks, again it’s not just that Omicron is far less dangerous than Delta, it is that now this variant is running through a highly vaccinated population. Let us also be clear, the risks continue to be carried by those who remain unvaccinated and not boosterized. Please listen to the clarion call- Get vaccinated! Get boosterized! Amplify your protection!

It is important to note that suitable quarantine arrangements were indeed in place to help stave off the Delta variant running through a largely unvaccinated population, but given the very high transmissibility of Omicron, set against its relatively low risk in a vaccinated population, the risk to the Territory shifted to placing far too many people in isolation for far too long. Cabinet, following the measures applied in both the United Kingdom and the United States concentrated on finding a good balance- balancing lives and livelihoods.

That said what has your government actually done in response to the recent surge in cases?

Cabinet met on December 29th, 2021, January 3rd and 9th 2022 and will meet again on 12th January, 2022 all in an effort to stay abreast of the situation and to implement the following measures largely between January 7th and 14th 2022:

  1. Only patrons who are fully vaccinated or have a negative covid-19 test within 24 hours are permitted to enter restaurants, bars, nightclubs, discotheques and attend Religious events and funerals. Regulation applies to those 12 years of age and above.
  2. Lowered mandatory testing to two years old and above for visitors arriving and unvaccinated residents returning to the TCI.
  3. Social gatherings and social activities, including public beaches, of more than 50 persons shall require a permit
  4. Bi-weekly testing of front-line staff inclusive of teachers
  5. Updated the Self-Isolation/Quarantine Guidelines
  6. Approved policy for the voluntary vaccination of children aged 5-11 years against COVID-19 in line with UK JCVI (Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunization) guidelines and in response to an increase in positive cases recorded in TCI among children. Plans are being developed to source the approved dosages for children. Parents are encouraged to vaccinate their children once available as it acts as an added layer of protection.
  7. Reverted to online learning for students to avoid super spread within our schools and to protect our children.
  8. Implemented Business Continuity Plan for the entire Public Service to ensure continuity of service delivery and to minimize spread amongst our workforce.

With these actions, taken with personal responsibility as a part of our overall collective responsibility, we will be able curb the arc of the cases as seen in other countries with recent spikes, as well as safeguard lives and livelihoods. We have been here before and your government has always been prepared to make the tough decisions even if unpopular today when we believe it’s the right course of action as we always, always have your best interest at heart. 

Stay blessed and be safe Turks and Caicos. 

Yours sincerely,
Hon. Jamell Robinson
Minister of Health and Human Services
On behalf of Turks and Caicos Islands Cabinet