At a press conference on April 29, 2020, Terrence Deyalsingh, Trinidad and Tobago's Minister of Health, highlighted a study led by the Oxford Government COVID-19 Response Tracker (OxCGRT) that offered a “general overview of countries that comply with four of the six recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) to make social distancing measures more flexible ”. On the list, Trinidad and Tobago ranked second just behind Vietnam. The only other Caribbean nation in the top ten is Barbados.
While this may be good news in terms of how effectively the government has been dealing with the pandemic (as of April 30, the country registered 116 cases of COVID-19, 72 patients discharged, and eight deaths), the minister He has said that the study's conclusions should not induce citizens to have a false sense of security.
In the study itself, the challenges encountered by the researchers in collecting the available data were also exposed:
While the OxCGRT data cannot fully say how ready countries are to leave lockdown, it does provide for a rough comparison across nations. Even this ‘high level’ view reveals that few countries are close to meeting the WHO criteria for rolling back lockdown measures.
At the time of writing (April 23, 2020), only a handful of countries are doing well at the four ‘checklist’ criteria OxCGRT is able to track.
Although the OxCGRT data cannot fully tell how prepared countries are to get out of the lockdown, they do provide a rough comparison between nations. Even this “high-level” view reveals that few countries are close to meeting the WHO criteria for reducing containment measures.
At the time of writing this article (April 23, 2020) few countries met all four “list” criteria that OxCGRT can track.
Naturally, one of the variables to consider is that the study was unable to obtain data for two categories that help WHO determine whether a country is ready to withdraw the measures of confinement: vulnerable environments and preventive measures in work places. The other four criteria – controlled cases, success in testing, tracing and isolation, imported case management, and community understanding – were ranked in a grid that ranged from “least” to “most ready to get out of confinement.” Of these, Trinidad and Tobago's performance was slightly lower in terms of testing and community understanding.
Social network users were quick to comment. On Facebook, Tenten Allegra warned:
It does * not * at all mean that it is time to end the restrictions. That will be decided by the CMO, the panel of experts in charge and all our boxes in this table need to be solid blue. No country is truly ready to lift restrictions but it * does * mean that in terms of ability to * begin * getting life forward to the new normal, we are in one of the best positions in the world to ** consider ** easing the lockdown come May 15th. That's something to feel encouraged by. Keep up the good work!
May God bless our nation! 🙏🇹🇹🇹🇹
This * doesn't * mean at all that it's time to end the restrictions. That will be decided by the CMO, the panel of experts in charge, and all the boxes in the table should be solid blue. No country is really ready to lift the restrictions but this * means * that in terms of the ability to * start * to bring life to the new normal, we are in one of the best positions in the world to * consider * the possibility of easing confinement on May 15. That is something to feel encouraged about. Keep working well!
May God bless our nation! 🙏🇹🇹🇹🇹
Dr. Roshan Parasram, Trinidad and Tobago's chief medical officer, has already recommended a “new normal,” although the restrictions are gradually being lifted. The country's current restrictions remain in place until May 10, 2020.
However, lawyer Emir Crowne was a little more skeptical of Minister Deyalsingh's assessment:
When Minister Deyalsingh said – in the context of clearing up misinformation no less – that Trinidad & Tobago ‘ranked second’ by ‘the University of Oxford’, here is what he neglected to mention:
1) The ‘ranking’ is based on a research note prepared by the Blavatnik School of Government. It is not peer-reviewed. It is not a ‘report ';
2) ‘Because the data only measure four of six recommended actions, we should be cautious about inferring what countries are ready to rollback lockdown from this measure.’ (From the research note itself) (…)
When Minister Deyalsingh said – nothing less than in the context of clearing up misinformation – that Trinidad and Tobago “ranks second” at “Oxford University”, this is what he forgot to mention:
1) The “classification” is based on a research note prepared by the Blavatnik School of Government. It is not peer reviewed. It is not a report.
2) “Because the data only measures four of the six recommended actions, we must be cautious about deducing which countries are ready to unlock this measure” (from the research note itself) (…).
The Blavatnik School of Government was founded in 2010 and is a school of public policy that is part of the University of Oxford Division of Social Sciences.
Examining the list, Emma Lewis, blogger and contributor to Jamaica's Global Voices, noted:
Trinidad and Tobago is ranked second (…) as ready to lift its lockdown. Another CARICOM country, Belize, is not far behind in fifth place (…) Barbados is in tenth place. Aruba, Guyana, Bermuda, Dominican Republic and Cuba (in that order) are in varying states of readiness. Jamaica, according to this survey, is the third lowest-ranking Caribbean country in terms of being prepared to lift an economic lockdown. Dominica, whose economy was battered and hardly recovered from devastating natural disasters, is the lowest ranking (Caribbean territory). Cuba, which has its own peculiar set of economic challenges, is the second lowest. I did not find every Caribbean country on the list – perhaps reliable data is not available.
Trinidad and Tobago is in second place (…) as prepared to lift the confinement. Another Caribbean country, Belize, closely follows fifth. Barbados is in the tenth. Aruba, Guyana, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic and Cuba (in that order) are in various states of readiness. Jamaica, according to this survey, is the third worst positioned among Caribbean countries in terms of readiness to lift economic confinement. Dominica, whose economy was hit and barely recovered from devastating natural disasters, is in last place in the ranking (of the Caribbean territories). Cuba, which has peculiar economic challenges, is the second worst. I did not find all the Caribbean countries on the list – perhaps why reliable data is not available.
Lewis, concerned about the apparent eagerness of the Jamaican government to jump-start the economy, continued:
I would like to give the prime minister some unsolicited advice: Deal with the virus, first. Get things under control, as the WHO suggests. Then and only then will we be ready to go back to what you call the ‘new normal’, which I am afraid will inevitably and quickly become ‘business as usual’.
I would like to give the Prime Minister advice that he has not asked for: first deal with the virus. Get things under control as suggested by the WHO. Then and only then will we be ready to return to what you call the “new normal,” which I fear will inevitably and very quickly become “normal.”
Likewise, for many in Trinidad and Tobago, there remains a high level of caution about lifting the restrictions – but there are also those who call for the nation's economy to move safely again. However, some social media users, like journalist Judy Raymond, have observed that people seem to return to the “old normal.”
The nation will reevaluate its position on May 10. Meanwhile, the fight against COVID-19 continues.