COVID UNDERDOGS: Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago is a small West Indian country led by a volcanologist who recently managed to wrestle their active COVID-19 cases down to one. YES, just one. The secret to their success according to them is something that everyone has on Earth.


Like I have been saying from the start of the COVID UNDERDOGS Series, no matter how small you are if you act early and smartly, it will give you massive leverage over any pandemic.

If you still don’t believe me, check this out.

Formula of TTI (Test/Trace/Isolate)

Just like Mathematics, the basis of the epidemiological playbook is neither new nor complicated. The same mantra of Test/Trace/Isolate has been used for the last century, with only a comfortable advancement of PCR testing rather than just eyeballing the sick. Just catching and quarantining any epidemic in its early stages can give it a huge blow and help you keep its numbers low.

I’m not sure about you guys but that’s what Trinidad & Tobago did.

The key point or insight here is the ‘when’ rather what. Unlike many developed countries that waited for the active cases count to hit 1000, Trinidad & Tobago reacted fast. For a small, under-resourced nation, this gave them massive leverage over the COVID-19 pandemic.

They received the same WHO advice as everybody, including Donald Trump’s America. They just listened to it, unlike America whose President still refuses to wear a mask. They took all the reagents and knowledge WHO had to offer. And they were ready

On 10th February, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad & Tobago informed that their laboratory is ready to respond to this new crisis name COVID-19. (Pan American Health Organization/WHO)

Trinidad & Tobago still hasn’t tested much per capita (about 3000 people out of 1.4 million), but they did it early. This gave them leverage and was able to take a little and make a big impact.

That’s the power of WHEN


Regardless of these early actions, Trinidad & Tobago still had to undergo lockdown. Unlike Korea and Taiwan which were mass testing and could stay open but that is a luxury Trinidad & Tobago couldn’t afford.

Trinidad & Tobago started shutting down right after their 1st confirmed case was discovered. That’s leverage. Stitch in time.

DAY 1:

On 12th March, Trinidad & Tobago announced their 1st confirmed case, a returnee from Switzerland. He had returned on 9th March itself and was placed under isolation.

Now comes the important parts.

Unlike other countries that wasted time running computer models, dithering, debating about how much they cared for old people. Trinidad & Tobago didn’t do anything like this.

The next day of lockdown --- March 13--- there was an immediate suspension on the cruise season and people were told to follow the social distancing rule. Lockdown had begun, with week schools were closed and within 10 days all ports of entry were completely shut.

React quickly enough and you can save both money and lives. Trinidad & Tobago proved this. The criminally stupid governments of the west missed the massive power of ‘When’.

DAY 11:

Prime Minister & Volcanologist Dr. Keith Rowley
Prime Minister & Volcanologist Dr. Keith Rowley

On 23rd March, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley (a geochemist by training) announced an expanded testing and aggressive economic support, including over $2000 USD in direct cash over 3 months (including rent and food).

This is a policy even a country like India has been failing to execute, but Trinidad & Tobago executed it and executed it early. By executing this policy early Trinidad & Tobago not only saved many lives but also save a significant amount of money.

Trinidad & Tobago’s confirmed cases peaked at 116. They were able to do an effective contact tracing on this number and it didn’t strain their medical system. As of today, the number of confirmed tragic deaths (8) would suggest some unconfirmed, so they must remain vigilant and keep testing, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a big achievement.

DAY 60: A Long Time

This is just the first innings of the test match. The first wave. COVID-19 is relentless. One missed case, one slip-up could lead to another outbreak, another lockdown, and more pain. Even though Trinidad & Tobago is nearly clean, they are still under lockdown and releasing very slowly. But, again, this is pretty standard epidemiological advice.

On the other hand, western countries are exiting lockdown ruinously early because, well people want haircuts, or just miss the pubs. Sounds Dumb, but these are the facts.

On 9th May, PM Dr. Rowley announced a six-phase reopening plan, which stretches on forever and isn’t affected or based on political dates. To surprise you all, the last phase doesn’t even have dates.

Dr. Rowley said the adjustment will take place on a phased basis. Each phase will be determined by the results from the COVID-19 Community testing and monitoring done by the Ministry of Health. (PM’s Office)

This statement clearly indicates that they are letting testing and science determine their reopening, not politics and impatience. Again, an example of textbook epidemiology.

None of this is rocket science. They are just executing well.


Therefore, we can learn a lot form Trinidad & Tobago. They didn’t do anything crazy, unusual, or even new. They just took the standard playbook and executed it pitch-perfect. And indeed many countries did the same thing or even doing it now.

The media nowadays is so flooded with the failures of the big countries that we forget many small countries success stories that are out there and waiting to be recognized and provide this world filled with negativity some positive rays of hope.

I will try to cover more neglected global leaders in future articles, but for now, I will leave you with one lesson.

Move fast. Like the fearsome Windies, cricket teams of the '80s, Trinidad & Tobago didn’t bowl anything fancy at COVID-19, they just bowled fast, and that has made all the difference in the world.

Official Writer: Abhishek Jha

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