COVID-19: A bitter pill to swallow

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Dr Alphonsus St Rose is a consultant physician (internal medicine), internist and gastroenterologist. He is a member of the American College of Gastroenterology and can be reached at: stroserae@gmail.com

By Dr Alphonsus St Rose, Independent Candidate for Choiseul/Saltibus

We are living in both interesting and challenging times and so, what this country needs is strong, honest, people-centered leadership to unite us citizens in a battle for survival with a virus called Covid-19.

We are fighting an enemy that does not discriminate and does not care whether you are black or white, rich or poor. The only thing it respects is if we come together in unity with a leadership that understands the importance and context of our lives where we all must follow the public health advisories and protocols.

But we are lacking a cohesive and coherent national umbrella policy as to how we deal effectively with this pandemic. This requires brutal honesty at the highest level of governance as well as the citizenry. The Saint Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) is lacking a robust and proactive platform while the Ministry of Health (MOH) is definitely not leading on any meaningful consultative process with healthcare professionals.

We have a very narrow margin for error and people will die in increasing numbers if this pandemic is not handled properly much unlike an economic or financial crisis. Our existential threat is the pandemic, not the economy.

Citizens of Saint Lucia, your health is your life and it is your most precious asset. We must stand up and fight for it, protect it like there is no other. If there is no life there is no economy… but once there is life there is hope! Please follow the Covid-19 protocols as your life depends on it.

There is need to appreciate that our healthcare delivery system, a humanitarian injustice, is already overwhelmed and trending to burn-out mode; our death rate is increasing and that has to be troubling. There is an urgent need for a course correction. Our leaders must appreciate that some things in life do transcend power, money and politics.

Covid-19 has engulfed the world killing global citizens at a phenomenal rate. For us, the immediate and important task at hand is:

  • Control and defeat the Covid-19 pandemic while attempting to limit the extent of any collateral damage to lives (primarily) and the economy (secondarily).

While executing this war on Covid-19 we need to:

  • Provide relief to suffering citizens;
  • Create a plan to rebuild a more resilient, diversified and sustainable local economy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) risk assessment level for Covid-19 is at the highest-ranking, level 4. This means that travellers should avoid ALL travel to our country or destination. Control of Covid-19 will require a full shutdown NOW and that includes the ports of entry, for no less than 14 to 21 days, to curb the importation of the virus, and allow for the virus to die and thereby reduce the spread.

Thereafter, we can reopen with robust measures for travellers from hotspot zones, with mandatory 2nd testing and a minimum 10-day compulsory quarantine. And who pays for the second testing? The tourists of course, or the hotels who make the most money off the industry. They enjoy many years tax-free holidays and duty-free concessions; so that is a small price to pay for bringing Covid-19 high-risk exposure to the country and its citizens.

They must help in the health risk and cost burden their industry is creating. The industry is extractive as we give up a lot to get these meagre-wage jobs. Open borders have brought thousands of tourists here, coming from the epicentre, making the industry a primary “vector”, while any backdoor enablers are coming only with a handful of people.

Therefore, the exposure ratio cannot support the backdoor theory and the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has so confirmed. It is dishonest to sell that theory to us, especially since at least one hotel has had to close. That erodes the trust, credibility and confidence so necessary for buy-in and compliance with the protocols by the citizens.

I respectfully hope the decision-makers in the tourism sector appreciate that this is not a business decision but rather, a scientifically driven, evidence-based decision, void of greed, insensitivity, political and economic expediency.

Enforce a stay home/curfew policy with mandatory wearing of masks in public for two to three weeks. All schools should be closed (go-to online learning) until the government of Saint Lucia (GOSL) can adequately provide for everyone’s safety by ensuring the necessary framework, oversight and material support for protocol compliance.

There is not enough testing at the community level to determine prevalence and disease burden to appropriately inform public health policy decision-making. The community education campaign on Covid-19 as well as the national vaccination plan (if we do have one) needs an urgent public awareness boosting.

Stop the election projects which cannot be a priority now and redirect the monies to saving lives as we must give primacy to the sanctity of life above all else. People need welfare and unemployment benefits in this critical time, especially the displaced workers, as well as the poor, marginalized and vulnerable citizens, to feed and care for themselves.

Food security is threatened because Covid-19 has disrupted shipping and movement of raw materials. The GOSL must move urgently to incentivize and diversify the local economy (fishing and farming among others) and boost the “eat what we grow” campaign towards self-sufficiency to reduce our importation bill. The agro-processing industry must be developed to derive more value-added benefit as we employ technology and best practices to increase our yield per acre of a scarce resource, our land.

Let me by way of public disclosure declare that what I have outlined (professionally and as a concerned citizen) is by no means a panacea for the myriad challenges Covid-19 has dealt us, but rather a rational, common-sense, well-intentioned platform for implementation to secure our collective best interest. I truly believe we can conquer Covid-19 with honest and caring leadership, public collective buy-in and adherence to the public health protocols.

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