COVID-19 threatens Caribbean islands, regional effort required

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By Caribbean News Global contributor

CASTRIES St Lucia, (CNG Health) – Last week, Caribbean News Global (CNG) reported that several Caribbean islands are experiencing an alarming spread of coronavirus, said: “Saint Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are at dangerous intersections of COVID-19.”

St Vincent and the Grenadines on Monday confirmed 46 new COVID-19 cases, 44 of which are nationals with no history of recent travel. A second COVID-19 death was recorded.

A release from the National Emergency Management Organization said one case is a non-national who traveled from Germany and another from Brazil. Both adults arrived with negative results and tested positive subsequently. Notwithstanding objection St Vincent and the Grenadines is classified as having “community spread.”

“Every day, I meet with Saint Lucians who are worried about the surge in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the related deaths. I can understand their fear. The government must put the lives of all Saint Lucians first,’ leader of the opposition, Philip J. Pierre wrote on Facebook.

Monday, January 18, 2021, the ministry of health and wellness (MOH-St Lucia) received confirmation of 35 new cases of COVID-19. This is from a batch of 126 COVID19 tests conducted at the Ezra Long Laboratory, from which 35 positive and 91 negative tests were recorded. This brings the total number of cases diagnosed in country to date to 656.

Dr Alphonsus St Rose Change For Choiseul/Saltibus on January 13, wrote on Facebook:

“ My people …  please pay attention to the established Covid-19 protocols. The higher the number of positive cases, the more likely it becomes to see severe disease and increases in the rates of hospitalization and deaths. Be responsible … protect yourselves and your fellow citizens. Wear your masks, social distance, practice frequent hand sanitization and avoid crowds and gatherings. Be safe!”

Offering consistent advice and guidance, January 18, Dr St Rose, said:

“35 new cases today! When will the government of St Lucia (GOSL) own up and do the responsible thing of protecting the children of Iyanola,” he added. “When our leaders refuse to do what is right and in our collective best interest with regard to COVID-19, someone on the outside will do the regulating for us … for which we will have no say. Surely we are better than this and deserve better!”

On Friday, January 8, Dr Gale T. C. Rigobert, minister for education, innovation, gender relations and sustainable development ordered ‘back to school’ January 11, 2021. Now, many school plants on the island are reported compromised, exposed and infected with coronavirus.

A release Monday, Monday, January 18, 2021, by the ministry of education informed parents and guardians that the Babonneau Secondary School will revert to distributed learning for the period January 18 – 20. “The decision was taken out of an abundance of caution for our students, staff and wider community, as some of the teachers may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus.”

On Monday, January 18, the ministry of education issued “advice for CHMS parents in Grade 6: “We have been made aware that we have two confirmed positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in this home-room. […] hence, we would like to recommend your child stays at home from January 19, 2021. Your child is expected to return to school on January 28, 2021. Students will be taught virtually during this time. […].

Previously, the usefulness of Dr Gale T. C. Rigobert, queried: “What benefit is there in a laptop”? Certainly, COVID-19 has made a wash of that statement, in the light of “physical distancing” and “e-learning”.

As schools worldwide struggle with reopening, the latest data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) reveal that 43 percent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019 – a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director. “We must prioritize children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”

“Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. “It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”

Related: 2 in 5 schools around the world lacked basic handwashing facilities before COVID-19 pandemic, says UNICEF, WHO

In the case of Saint Lucia, leader of the Saint Lucia Party (SLP) Philip J Pierre reinforced a delay in the reopening of schools, especially as the following has been discovered:  

  • Insufficient support given to schools to properly address the health and safety needs of teachers and students;
  • Lack of consultation with teachers who know first-hand the experiences of dealing with education during COVID-19;
  • Teachers are expected to do temperature checks and sanitise;
  • No consultation with Early Childhood educators;
  • No deep cleaning day at schools.

Pierre’s guidance and implementation would have covered:

  • Reinstate the laptop programme;
  • Provide mobile sinks to all schools;
  • Provide soap, sanitiser and other disinfecting supplies to schools;
  • Provide a health aid to every school;
  • Provide special transportation to vulnerable children; asthmatic and other conditions which make them high risk for contracting the virus;
  • Expand the school feeding programme.

“The government has handled this COVID-19 pandemic disastrously. It has failed to put the health and well-being of the people first and foremost. […] The government seems lost, there seems no energy or capability to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is becoming clearer with each passing day that the only immediate solution is the removal of the government,” a statement said.

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