Dr. The Honourable Ralph E. Gonsalves
Dear Dr. Gonsalves:
Re: COVID-19 Crisis and Response
I trust you and your family are well in these difficult times. I write to you concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and our country’s response to it.
As is well known, the spread of the coronavirus has caused hundreds of thousands of infections, serious illness and thousands of deaths worldwide. In the Caribbean, the number of confirmed cases grows daily. In Guadeloupe, COVID-19 has reached epidemic proportion. All indications are that the worst is yet to come, for the world and for us.
Experience elsewhere in the world has shown that while we should hope for the best, we must plan for the worst. Confirmation on March 11, 2020 of the first COVID-19 case in our country created widespread concern and brought calls for a robust response from government. As the situation worsens in Europe and North America, fears grow at home that we will be facing more cases and will experience serious public health and economic repercussions.
This is a time for all of us to hope together and work together to slow the spread of the coronavirus in SVG and manage its impact as effectively as possible.
As Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party, I have a responsibility to put the national interests before partisan political interests and to work for the common good. In times of crisis in our country, this principle rises to paramount importance. I have repeatedly called on our government, civil society organizations and individuals to acknowledge our present condition and work together for the good of all.
I renew that call here today. We in the Opposition offer our assistance and commitment to do whatever we can to assist the government and nation to confront and overcome this most serious threat. Prime Minister, I urge that you accept this genuine offer of cooperation in the spirit intended and that we put aside political partisanship as we deal with this existential crisis.
There are actions we can take to allay fears and constructively foster an atmosphere of calm among our citizenry even as we protect against the spread of the coronavirus in SVG. I recommend the following measures, among others that may become necessary as this crisis unfolds, that we can take and which I hope to discuss further in a meeting with you.
The Ministry of Health has informed us that the single confirmed COVID-19 case in SVG has been managed to prevent the risk of community spread. To protect us further against spread of infection, we must take steps immediately to prevent importation of the coronavirus. This requires closing our seaports and airports immediately to restrict travel in and out of SVG for all but absolutely essential travel and trade in necessary supplies. This includes closing our ports to cruise ships, yachts and other pleasure crafts for a period of time to be determined after further deliberation.
Stricter social distancing controls and guidelines must be advocated publicly and enforced as best we can. All public gatherings should be discouraged and reduced to only what are necessary to maintain essential public services and promote public health.
Ensure that water is available to all people throughout SVG so that they can comply with the recommended personal hygiene practices.
Urgently enable testing for the coronavirus in SVG and begin widespread testing. Priority should be given to those who come into contact with persons who have tested positive for the coronavirus or are suspected of being infected with it. Waiting for symptoms to show before testing is a risky approach that may create more harm.
Explain to the nation what to expect in a worst-case scenario of the spread of the coronavirus in SVG and how government services (especially health services), businesses, transport services and individuals are expected to respond. The participation of seasoned medical, public health and other personnel with related expertise drawn from both civil society and the government service should be enlisted in this effort.
I am heartened by the declarations of the government’s intention and regional efforts to develop measures to cushion the economic disruption and financial hardship that will result from the COVID-19 pandemic. The involvement of businesses, financial institutions, trade unions and the Opposition is essential to this planning process and the successful implementation of our ongoing response. Therefore, I urge that there be consultation with them.
The Members of the Opposition are available to meet appropriately with you and with other members of the government and public institutions to discuss our recommendations further and plan on an ongoing basis for the implementation of a national response to this unprecedented crisis.
I look forward to hearing from you very soon.
May God bless us all.
Dr. The Honourable Godwin Friday
Leader of the Opposition