Letters & Opinion

Are we ready for the Delta Variant?

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

When COVID-19 took root in India and the government stopped shipment of vaccines to the rest of the world to meet the national challenge of vaccinating the world’s second largest population, it was just the beginning of the latest onslaught by the world’s most potent virus in the 21st Century.

After one year engaging in vaccine diplomacy, flying gifted donations worldwide out of the Serum Institute of India (SII) to capitals across continents, the largest producer of vaccines in the world — ended-up being officially banned from exporting, leaving the rest of the world high-and-dry for Astra-Zeneca supplies to be supplied by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The (Delta) variant that started in India has now spread worldwide – like all its predecessors from Brazil, South Africa, the UK and the USA.

But it is 14 times more transmissible, becoming the dominant variant in the UK and about to become so in the USA, while Africa has seen a 40% rise in infections and Brazil this week joined the USA as the second country to have 500,000 deaths due to COVID and a daily average of 70,000 cases.

The UK (Kent) variant has been detected in Saint Lucia, but there’s little being said or reported about the conditions of those affected, as was the case when the first affections and deaths were registered in the tourism industry.

It is to be expected that behind the veils of silence about other than the original COVID-19 strain, the health planners are nonetheless conducting the investigations in the UK variant.

And even if there’s been nothing said about the Delta variant being detected here, it’s also to be expected that not only are out health planners also monitoring the arrival of the delta variant – which will come – but also preparing for the aftermath of its landing.

The Delta variant has proven the most destructive of all and is already responsible for over 90% of the new cases in the UK while enforced another early lockdown in China’s Shenzen province after the first case was detected at the airport.

So, when the Delta variant lands here, we can only hope it’s detected early enough before it leaves the air or sea port.

The national vaccination effort now at its maximum and proceeding with minimum speed and knowing the Kent variant is already here, all efforts will have to be made to keep Delta in the air or out at sea, but all will depend on how safe our entry requirements are at our ports of entry.

Just like the original COVID-19 virus, Kent and Delta’s global expansion across nations and capitals are also being facilitated by ships and airplanes, particularly through cruise tourism and air travel, resulting in tourism-dependent economies being the hardest hit at the earliest.

Given the importance of tourism to such economies and given all the economic, social and political ramifications, it’s difficult for governments to decide to simply shut the industry down.

But experience has been that where livelihoods have been put before lives the cost has been higher than the other societal losses, resulting in countries that started paying attention late suffering the costs of having to ride successive waves of infections, some awaiting their third and fourth at high costs of death and dizzyingly-fast infection spreads.

The Caribbean being an entirely tourism dependent region, it would have been best if the region agreed to implement the same maximum prevention measures at all ports of entry, which would have prevented the airlines and cruise lines from lowering the vaccination bar in selecting passengers for destinations also prepared to lower the entry bar.

But instead, some countries in travel bubbles opted to burst them by lowering the entry bar at air and sea ports, resulting in air and cruise lines selling special packages for islands willing to lessen entry requirements.

The airlines have started filling the hotels, but the cruise ships hurrying to resume trips have run into two snags already: two have been found to have had on board passengers who tested positive, resulting in both ships and crew being pulled-off the cruises, passengers re-examined and crew put in 14 days isolation.

But a third cruise was also under way this week.

The airlines and cruise ships have been parked and docked for over a year and cannot be blamed for wanting to part the skies and seas and even swim against the tide to make-up for lost time and money – which is why tourism authorities and governments in tourism-dependent CARICOM states cannot afford to continue to lower the entry bar to heighten and brighten tourism arrival statistics.

It is quite understandable that a country like Saint Lucia that depended on tourism for 65% of its GDP will also go head over heels, even walk backward, to increase arrival numbers for the sake of the hotels, restaurants and related enterprises and staff, taxi and tour operators, sailing and boating companies and the large extended numbers dependent on them all.

But such anxiety will have to be necessarily tamed, especially as the country does not yet have the necessary facilities to handle, even tame, the national effects of the aftermath of the Delta variant’s eventual arrival here.

Like the original COVID-19, the new variants know no boundaries and Delta is on its way, flying or cruising-in, but without any expected time of arrival or at which port of entry.

Given the speed at which the Delta variant flies, unless a welcome miracle of any kind happens, (from all signs at present) there’ll not be enough hospitals or beds and facilities in working condition.

And Herd Immunity (at 70% of the population) will not have been achieved either.

It is for all these reasons that the nation’s health planners and policymakers need to do more to let the nation know what’s the score with the Kent (UK) variant today and update concerned citizens too about the Delta variant – whether it’s been detected and what’s being done to keep it from entering at our ports of entry.

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