By Caribbean News Global contributor
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent — Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves recently outlined his administrations’ actions in a national address, March 25, 2020, that summarises Rising stronger from the ashes of COVID-19.
Caribbean News Global (CNG) will publish Dr Gonsalves address in a three-part series that covers healthcare, socio-economic and national security measures to inhibit COVID-19, and his stimulus package of $74.05 million, endeavored to cushion short-term declines in GDP and the prospect for growth in 2020 and 2021, that is steering towards a global recession.
Context and background
Over the past two or so weeks, the global pandemic of coronavirus, or COVID-19 as the World Health Organisation (WHO) had dubbed it, has been galloping in its spread in our major diaspora centres and tourism source-markets of the USA, the United Kingdom, and Europe, having hitherto raged among populations in influential economic hubs such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Iran.
Given the inter-connectedness of the world’s peoples through transportation, migration, global communications, and trade, the contagion of COVID-19 has either engulfed or touched physically almost every country on earth.
In the Caribbean, all but one of the CARICOM member countries have reported at least one person who has tested positive for COVID-19; in some regional states the spread of the coronavirus has been wider and more challenging than in others; in a smaller number of Caribbean countries, there have been one or two connected deaths.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, there has been, only one case of a positive test for COVID-19, on March 11, an imported case from the United Kingdom. Thankfully, there has been no other positive case since then, even though we have tested 28 persons thus far — either persons with the symptoms of the virus or relevant persons of interest; we are awaiting results from five more tests which were sent earlier [today].
And, praises be to God, we have had no death or serious illness arising from COVID-19 in St Vincent and the Grenadines. There has been no local transmission, no community transmission of the coronavirus. But our country cannot be, must not be, and has not been, complacent in our response.
Our government’s approach has been to follow the science; act prudently on the medical advice of the professionals in the ministry of health and wellness; be guided by the sage advice of the WHO, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA); distil the practical observations from the experiences of other countries worldwide and shape responses appropriate to our circumstances; and ramp-up in either an incremental or accelerated manner our policies and practical measures to fit the fluidity or altering nature of the global, regional, and national condition in all their inter-connectedness.
The central fact is that COVID-19 is a serious disease to be addressed seriously and scientifically, not complacently but also not hysterically. Proportionate responses are demanded always with urgency; and the changing level of risks is required to be managed sensibly and cautiously, avoiding both over-reaction and under-reaction. It is a balance not always easily achieved.
The received scientific learning and wisdom of the nature of COVID-19 is that — it is not a death sentence like HIV/AIDS in an earlier period or more recently, Ebola. Some 80 percent of those who are infected by COVID-19 will have a mild infection and will recover well and in good time.
Only a very small percentage of those who are actually infected will suffer significantly; and an even smaller percentage of persons, particularly with severe pre-existing conditions (respiratory and heart ailments, diabetes, and hypertension) will succumb fatally to the coronavirus.
The responsive health initiatives have thus been taken with all these factual matrices in mind. We recognise that some may die from it; others may die with it; it is a serious threat to life, living, and production.
We acknowledge, too, that the human fear of COVID-19 may be far greater than the actual effect of the disease itself. This fear has taken the scourge of coronavirus into some unchartered waters and has scarred the consciousness of much of the public in our country. The real threat of the coronavirus and the fear, in some cases hysterical fear of it, has wrought a composite, monumental challenge to us all.
A monumental multi-dimensional challenge
This monumental challenge of coronavirus and its consequences has four inter-related, intersecting dimensions: Health, economic, social, and security. These four dimensions crisscross each other in the global, regional, and national arenas; and they inter-connect across countries.
This inter-relatedness and crisscrossing of all these dimensions affect St Vincent and the Grenadines directly, without recourse to any particular action on our part. For example, the closing of borders of some countries with which St. Vincent and the Grenadines meaningfully interfaces, the curtailment of travel from some countries, and the decisions of cruise lines and airlines to suspend operations, have resulted in massive declines our returning migrants, in tourist arrivals, the closure of hotels, and the laying-off of workers.
So, in keeping with the fluidity, unevenness, and evolving circumstances of the inter-connectedness and many-sided impacts of COVID-19, the up-to-date containment and management framework for COVID-19 in St Vincent and the Grenadines involves the following:
- All persons who arrive from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, USA, United Kingdom and member-countries of the European Union, including the Overseas Departments of France, and Canada will be quarantined, automatically, at their own expense, for 14 days.
- Any person, arriving from the same named-countries or any other country, with symptoms of COVID-19 will be isolated privately or in a public facility and tested. Relevant medical protocols will further apply depending on the outcome of the test but in any event, the isolation will be for at least 14 days.
- All educational institutions (pre-schools, early childhood centres, primary, secondary, post-secondary and tertiary) have been closed one week prior to the Easter vacation, and continuing, until the start of the third school term.
- An advisory was issued for the cancellation of the Easterval in Union Island and the Easter Regatta in Bequia. The organisers of Gospel Fest have postponed the holding of this Festival from April to an unspecified date in the future.
- Although all airports and seaports of entry remain open (except in Chateaubelair, which is closed temporarily), there is much-enhanced border control and surveillance of persons with symptoms of COVID-19 and other persons of health interest. The Immigration Officers and the health personnel at airports and ports of entry work closely with each other on this matter.
- An advisory by the ministry of health and wellness has been issued for places of entertainment, social gathering, worship, or locales for funerals, weddings, birthdays, or social parties, to restrict the number of persons attending to a reasonable size, and to follow protocols of personal or social distancing as are reasonably practicable in all the circumstances. I urge all of us to follow the ministry’s protocols; it is in all our interest.
- An altered regime for the granting of sick leave for employees with flu-like symptoms or respiratory problems or COVID-19 infections has been established for central government employees. This regime is advisory for state-owned enterprises and the private sector. Employers are being asked, as far as is reasonably practicable, to organise their work-places, shift systems or home-work regimes to better face the threat of COVID-19.
- The array of oft-repeated personal hygiene protocols are advised to be scrupulously followed by individuals, families, at homes and workplaces.
- An Isolation Unit is currently being set up and is scheduled for opening by mid-April 2020.
- A flu clinic on St Vincent and temporary isolation facilities (retrofitted containers) in the Grenadine islands of Bequia, Canouan, Union Island, Mayreau, and at Kingstown have been put in place. Quarantine/isolation rooms have been identified for these Grenadine islands plus Mustique, and on St Vincent.
- The equipment, materials, and supplies for testing COVID-19 have been ordered and are due to arrive in St Vincent and the Grenadines shortly. Other materials and supplies to combat COVID-19 have also been ordered and are also due to arrive soonest. Until in-country testing becomes available, testing is being done at the CARPHA labs in Trinidad and Tobago or Barbados, courtesy of that country’s government.
- A hotline for COVID-19 has been set up.
- Some forty Vincentian nurses and intern doctors have been, or are being, hired to strengthen the containment and surveillance at the hospitals and clinics, the ports of entry, hotels, and the hotline in respect of COVID-19.
- Twelve nurses and four doctors from Cuba, a gift from the government and people of Cuba, are due to arrive in St Vincent and the Grenadines tomorrow for an initial 3-month period, but which time period may be extended, to assist us in containing and managing COVID-19.
- The government has purchased the anti-viral drug, Interferon, from Cuba in sufficient doses to satisfy the treatment cycles for 50 patients. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Pharmaceutical Procurement Service (OECSP) has also ordered additional supplies of this drug for St Vincent and the Grenadines. The dosages of Interferon will arrive in a few days. The OECS has ordered more for us, at our request.
- Overall, the ministry of health and wellness has taken several other practical measures, in its normal and enhanced operations, to fortify our battle against COVID-19, especially as regards elderly persons, pregnant women, and other at-risk groups.
To be continued … Part 2