The three larger countries in the south Caribbean continue to struggle to control COVID-19 pandemic infections, with the number of positive cases and deaths breaking records in the month of May.
The worst affected is Trinidad, where authorities are enforcing nighttime curfews and severe restrictions on outdoor activities including exercise areas, gyms and bars, in the wake of 301 deaths in the twin island with Tobago for this year and a total of 479 since the first recorded outbreak in that nation in March of last year.
Authorities are treating the situation with such urgency that they have implemented a special 10 a.m. daytime curfew for a number of public holidays this week and in the coming weeks to minimize public interaction. Most supermarkets opened only for a few hours on Monday to allow for emergency shopping, hours after medical authorities reported nine new deaths at the weekend.
In Dutch-speaking Suriname, the administration of President Chan Santokhi has asked The Netherlands, Suriname’s former colonizer, for help in sending a team of doctors and shipments of oxygen tanks to fill a shortage in the country of just over 500,000. Neighboring French Guiana has also sold Suriname a shipment of oxygen tanks, even as officials ramp up a nationwide vaccination program. The country has adequate supplies of doses and expects more in the coming weeks.
The first team of Dutch doctors is due to arrive in Paramaribo on Friday. The medical council has reported that hospital beds are now in short supply owing to a spike in infections.
Nighttime curfews remain in effect and much of the country is in lockdown mode as the administration scrambles to put a lid on viral infections.
Like neighboring Guyana, Suriname has long and unpoliced borders with Brazil where the virus has killed thousands of people. The deadly Brazilian strain of the virus is also being blamed for the hike in fatalities in Suriname and Guyana. Trinidad has already reported the presence of the deadly strain on the island.
Local airports and marine borders have remained closed since March of last year. Prime Minister Keith Rowley has in part linked civil society candlelight vigils protesting crime in Trinidad and public indiscipline during the Easter weekend with the latest spike.
Guyana, the largest member nation in the 15-country regional grouping, reported nearly 3,000 cases and 90 deaths for May, by far the highest since March of 2020. The April death toll was 66. The total number of deaths is heading to 400.
The administration of President Irfaan Ali has taken a business-first approach to the pandemic, implementing a largely useless 10.30 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew. Apart from social distancing restrictions at some state offices and most private businesses, life in the country remains as normal as if there was no pandemic. Soldiers and police try to enforce the nighttime curfews, albeit with
limited success. Cabinet officials last week made it clear there were no plans for a lockdown or restriction of activities anytime soon as crowded municipal markets and other shopping areas remain open. Activities are unrestricted.
As Trinidad observed Indian Arrival Day on Monday, May 31 both the opposition and government appealed for responsible behavior from citizens.
“It is now all a matter of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley said. “The pandemic has upended societies worldwide, and opened us to the challenges of a whole new world. It is now all a matter of individual responsibility, and if we look beyond, we may see the opportunities for change, first, in our individual lives, and the possibilities for wider national socio-economic reform,” he said in a special message.