There are hopeful signs that the worst of the global Covid-19 pandemic will soon be behind us. While vaccination rates in many countries especially in Africa are low, the advent of the Omicron variant has seen higher case numbers but lower rates of hospitalisation, and fewer deaths.
This means that the pressure on health care systems is reducing, and it has been that pressure that had largely dictated the policy response of governments.
To be sure, the Covid-19 virus will be around for some time to come and indeed is likely to become endemic but not deadly, unless some more dangerous variant appears.
Even as the world begins to transition back to normalcy, countries will need to continue vaccination programmes and exercise care with large scale public events. Trinidad and Tobago will therefore, for a second year, go without its Carnival street parades and since Carnival days are not public holidays, citizens will find themselves going to work and to school when some of us would otherwise have been revelling in the streets.
As we look toward the end of restrictions, we should reflect on what lessons the pandemic has taught the world and taught us here in Trinidad and Tobago.
We were fortunate that we had excess capacity that allowed the setting up and use of a parallel health care system for Covid-19 patients without disrupting normal health services to any significant degree, although as the Seemungal Report indicated, there were staff shortages and burnout among doctors and nurses, similar to what was seen in other countries.
An important lesson of the pandemic relates to the comorbidities – obesity, hypertension, diabetes – which contributed to the death rate. These non-communicable diseases arise in part from our lifestyles, especially the amount of exercise we do, and nutrition, the foods we eat.
These factors are within our control, and it is critically important that we take personal responsibility for ensuring we eat the right foods in the right quantities, and exercise regularly.
There may well be a tendency for us to go to see a doctor only when we feel unwell. However, there are many indicators of wellness we should all learn to monitor so that we can be proactive and ward off health trouble before it becomes a serious problem. Some of these indicators include weight, BMI (body mass index), resting heart rate, blood pressure, and fasting blood sugar.
During the pandemic and continuing until restrictions are lifted, we have learned the importance of frequent hand washing, masking, and social distancing to lower the risk of infection. This required a great deal of discipline, but these practices have now become automatic.
When the situation returns to normal, we will dispense with the masks, but the practices of frequent hand washing and covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze are basic hygiene practices which will continue to be important in the future and which our children should be trained to practise consistently.
The third lesson of the pandemic is that we need to be very careful about the information we consume, especially on social media. Because something has gone viral on social media does not mean that it is true.
It is critically important to ascertain the source of any data and information that is presented to us and determine whether the source is credible. Even when information comes from an apparently credible source, we should still apply basic common sense to what we are being told, and as a final filter, we can seek another opinion from a second source.
There are also fact-checking websites which tell us whether what we are reading is true or not. We often see memes with quotations alongside a picture of the Pope and we are invited to believe that he said those words. It is always wise to check before forwarding those.
Finally, the pandemic exposed a great deal of pain, loneliness, and grief as people were locked down, became seriously ill, or lost loved ones. Some people lost their jobs and incomes and fell on hard times. Doctors and nurses struggled as they tried to cope.
The pandemic taught us about the importance of caring, of charity, of love for our neighbour. We need to carry that lesson with us when the pandemic ends and continue seeing pain and loss and grief around us and responding to it with caring and with love.