(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s presentation on Heroes Day)
On Wednesday 11th March, it was revealed that St. Vincent and the Grenadines recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 infection. This is an extremely serious matter for all Vincentians. It will affect the way we do business and how we go about our daily lives. We must do all we can to protect our lives.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease COVID-19. The only way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The virus is spread mainly from person-to-person. Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. (This is according to the experts.)
Fellow Vincentians, each of us can become a hero by taking actions to minimize the spread of this virus. Be a hero at home, be a hero in your church, be a hero at your school, be a hero at your workplace and in your community. Practicing good health habits and taking the necessary precautionary measures should be everyone’s top priority; it is our duty. It is fitting in this time of crisis and fear, that those of us in public life take every opportunity and use our influence and appeal to encourage an attitude within our country and actions from ordinary people that will slow the onslaught of the virus and protect us as best we can.
Practice good personal health habits: wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty; cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles) using a regular household detergent and water.
At the workplace, employers should start doing these things now: make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic; wipe surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) regularly with disinfectant; Why? Because contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads; promote regular and thorough handwashing by employees and customers; put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace; make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled; this is not a time to be concerned about how often the bottles are refilled and make sure that staff and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water, as kills the virus on hands and prevents its spread.
It is imperative that we all practice the guidelines to reduce the spread of the Covid19 virus and ultimately stop it from causing deaths, economic damage and social disruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
As I have stated before, the COVID-19 pandemic requires that we all work together, without political partisanship, to combat the virus. Accordingly, as Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party (NDP), my statements and recommendations on the matter are intended to help the efforts to slow down the spread of the virus and prevent serious illness and loss of life in SVG.
In SVG, there is one confirmed case of COVID-19 so far. So, we know that the virus is here. In neighbouring St. Lucia, two cases have been confirmed. Other countries in the region have also reported cases. We cannot test for the virus in SVG and must send samples to Trinidad to be tested.
In many countries around the world, governments have acted to reduce the spread of the virus and protect lives. Among our Caribbean neighbours, Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Maarten and Montserrat have closed schools and restricted public gatherings. This has been done even where there is no confirmed case of COVID-19 (e.g. Grenada). Emphasis is being placed on what is referred to as social distancing to reduce the risk of catching and transmitting the virus.
I urge that similar, stricter measures be implemented here in SVG to stem the spread of the virus and reduce the risk of illness. I, therefore, call on the Government to implement the following measures:
- Close all schools effective immediately and schedule reopening, at the earliest, after the normal Easter vacation ending April 13, 2020, during which time the decision should be reviewed.
- Suspend public gatherings of more than 100 persons and the police cease to give or cancel permission for public gatherings involving over 100 persons.
- Suspend the recently announced travel incentive (that is intended to attract regional visitors to SVG).
- Urge public transport providers to sanitize their vehicles regularly.
- Urge employers to permit employees who can do so to work from home.
- Suspend for the remainder of the season visits by cruise ships.
- Require travellers from the USA and the UK to be in home quarantine for 14 days and discourage foreign travel by Vincentians living in SVG until further notice.
- In consultation with financial institutions including the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, the IMF and the World Bank, develop an economic relief package to respond to the economic hardship resulting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines from the pandemic.
Finally, over the past three months, the NDP has been holding public meetings in villages across the country, and more such meetings were planned. However, in light of the recent developments locally and internationally concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, including the confirmation of one COVID-19 case in SVG, I have taken the decision to suspend the meetings and other large gatherings until further notice.