PRESS CONFERENCE OF DR THE HON GODWIN FRIDAY
The Escalating COVID-19 Crisis
- The crisis is the worst it has been in SVG.
- Over the past two weeks, the situation has deteriorated rapidly. SVG recorded it first case on March 11/20 and increased moderately until a week or so ago.
- The recent upsurge in new cases:
Wednesday, January 6, 2021, –28 new cases.
Thursday, January 7, 2021–55 new cases
Sunday, January 10—24 new cases
Monday, January 11—4 new cases
Tuesday, January 12 — 31 new cases
- A total of 284 cases in SVG—106 recovered and 178 remain active!
- There is more to come; perhaps many more.
- Most concerning is that vast majority of cases are the result of local spread.
- Tuesday, for example, all 31 cases had no recent travel history! This means they got infected through local transmission. (the govt officials do not want to use the term community spread. But if it walks like a duck,…etc. it is a duck!)
- 155 local transmission cases are under investigation, according to NEMO! That a lot of cases to investigate at the same time!
- 6 persons are hospitalized, 2 in serious condition. This is new for us! Let us pray it does not become fatal!
- Do we have the capacity to treat people effectively? Our health care system is not equipped to deal with an outbreak of COVID illnesses. Do we have ventilators (how many) and staff to operate them?
- Further, many Government officials have tested positive: COP; Dep. COP; five other police officers; Treasury Dept officials; a Minister of government.
- Several persons who were doing contract tracing have apparently also tested positive. So, who is doing the tracing? How are they coping?
- The testing backlog is also growing— 900 tests still waiting for results. What will the results be? This is frightening for most people.
- What is the current positivity rate from recent tests?
- The system is stretched to the limit, if not overwhelmed. How are they managing to isolate 178 active cases? How are they managing contact tracing for so many new cases, that grow more every day?
- We need answers! People are scared and confused. And the government appears to be paralyzed, unable to act decisively and effectively.
- On the one hand, the PM and others in the government were giving the impression that they had this beaten; that they had managed so well that the economic fallout was not as bad as elsewhere in the region. They spoke as though we were past the worst. But the situation is now worse than ever!
- We are now, per population, one of the highest risk areas in the world!
- The Government has mismanaged this problem! They became boastful as though it was a competition, that they were winning.
- They also became complacent and they have allowed the situation to get out of control!
Now we must do all we can to bring the situation under control.
- Secure our ports of entry to ensure all persons are properly checked and handled appropriately
- Enforce quarantine measures strictly, through effective monitoring and follow up. As part of this, ensure resort guests stay on resort until mandatory quarantine completed
- Conduct random testing, or test of person who wants to be tested, so that testing is more widespread. The goal must be to test as many people as possible, on a continuous basis.
- Mandatory masks in public spaces with many people, publicly used buildings and public transport (many businesses enforcing it for their own protection but it should not be merely optional)
- Facilitate importation of masks (I had to pay duty when I got a donation of masks from abroad).
- Promote work rotation, especially in the public sector (this will reduce the use of minivans)
- Record names of persons who attend church, funerals, other gatherings even though limited to 10 and do temperature checks of persons entering such gatherings
- Increase public awareness of the need to continue to practice COVID Safe personal hygiene, to overcome the so-called “COVID fatigue”—wash hands regularly, cough in tissue or elbow, no handshakes, or hugs; wear a mask; monitor own temperature when feeling unwell; avoid gatherings; stay home as much as possible.
- Install handwashing stations at bus terminals and assist van operators to regularly sanitize vans, and ferry operators likewise
- Continually urge people to be safe.
Assisting with Economic Fallout
The economic fallout will continue for some time to come.
As a priority, the upcoming Budget must provide for financial support to persons economically affected. There must be a significant package of relief assistance for people hurting from the pandemic.
- Van operators will lose income because of the restrictions and school online and will require financial support.
- Workers in the hospitality industry (incl. hotel and restaurant workers, taxi drivers, tour operators, craft vendors, market vendors, street vendors), including cruise ship workers who cannot return to work because their ships are not operating.
- Hotel/guest house and restaurant owners/operators need income and other indirect support; many businesses are closing, some for good.
The government is failing to manage the COVID-19 crisis and failing to keep the people informed about the state of the pandemic in SVG.
- There is too much political calculation in what is said and done by public officials for public consumption.
- The professionals in the Ministry of Health must be guided by science and experience, not by politics!
- It must always be what makes people safe and feel safe, not what makes the government look good or sound good.
I say to the health dept officials, give the proper scientific advice honestly and fully. That is your role. Then, it is up to the political leaders to make decisions based on that information and advice.
There is a trust gap between government and the people as far as the management of the COVID crisis goes. This is dangerous and can cost lives!
The message must be conveyed clearly and consistently that we are not yet out of the crisis; we cannot yet return to normal.
It is a false choice to say we must choose between health on the one hand and the economy on the other.
They are inextricably linked.
The economy cannot function properly if people are getting infected and others fear becoming infected. There will be reduced public confidence in going about their business and the economy will suffer. So, the only way to protect the economy is to bring the spread of the virus under control and show our people that the government is managing the problem.
The evidence of the last two weeks shows that the government is failing to do that and is doing so at a time when the situation is more grave and more urgent than ever!