St Lucia’s state of emergency: Three cases of COVID-19, airports, non-essential services closed

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By Caribbean News Global contributor

CASTRIES, St Lucia – The government of Saint Lucia announced Monday, March 23, 2020, three matters relative to COVID-19. Its third case of the coronavirus; the closure of two airports to all incoming commercial and private flights effective 11:59 pm until Sunday, April 5, 2020, except for facilitating departing passengers repatriating from Saint Lucia and cargo operations. And the – Extraordinary – Statutory Instrument No. 39 of 2020 —Constitution of Saint Lucia – Proclamation for Declaration of State of Emergency

The government of Saint Lucia had already closed schools, imposed travel restrictions and scaled back non-essential services in an effort to contain coronavirus, albeit a delayed response in policy, logistics, legislative, social and economic measures.

COVID-19 response

“For St Lucia, we currently have a total of three cases. Our third case is a 43-year-old female with a travel history to the US. She came back, experienced flu-like symptoms and was tested and treated and she is presently in isolation,” chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Sharon Belmar-George said.

“The patient is presently in isolation,” the CMO explained. “Our teams are working closely with her possible contacts on the ground presently. She is doing well, she’s recovered well.”

According to Dr Belmar-George, the patient presented to the healthcare system on March 12 and her result came back positive March 22. More interesting she said, “the patient had been self-isolating alone at home since her arrival.”

Saint Lucians have expressed concern that while passengers and citizens that arrive by air are allowed to self-quarantine, and have even proceeded with there vacation before today’s ‘official’ closure of the airports, however, persons who arrived via boat are under mandatory quarantine at the Starfish hotel.

This disparity, inconsistency, and lack of planning points to the awkward and ill-prepared disaster planning of the country’s COVID-19 crisis. Nevertheless, with all the political, showmanship and ‘deficiencies’  associated with the commissioning the Owen King European Union (OKEU) hospital – it has opened to some degree, compliments COVID-19.

Medial experts understand that Saint Lucia in not performing widespread testing as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). “The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is by breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate, once again, our message is test, test, test.”

‘You cannot fight a fire blindfolded’: WHO chief blasts slow virus testing response

Last week former CMO Dr Stephen King said: “We have not been doing enough testing. Therefore we must assume that there is a community spread happening now. The public health principles that must be implemented with the maximum effect is containment and mitigation.”

“People over 80 have a 15 percent mortality, 70-80 – 8 percent, 60-70 – 4 percent, while people with chronic disease have the additional risk of dying. Just as importantly ten percent of infected people will be so sick that they will need hospitalization, half of these (five percent) will be critically ill needing ICU, half of these (2.5 percent) will require ventilation. Saint Lucia cannot handle more than 1,000 infected people per month,” Dr King said.

Dr Alphonsus St Rose illustrate it magnificently: “Now the COVID-19 is here upon us; we are ill-prepared, and now the best advice we can be given (by our leaders)  – is don’t panic?

COVID-19 and St Lucia’s worsening healthcare crisis

Closure of airports

The closure of airports has not escaped government policy and economic decision to forgo a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) for the Hewanorra International Airport set at $110 million-plus default payments in exchange for the multi-million loan that increased to US$175 million. And based on recent pronouncements, it has now ballooned to US$225 million.

Critics argue, “So much for the revenue stream to repay the loan of $600 million-plus, for  the construction of this very airport,” and “where will the company responsible for the management of the airport get the revenue stream to pay-off the airport?”

Border security?

Former health, and national security minister, Dr Keith Mondesir has argued that the closure of Saint Lucia’s borders is extreme, citing the need for commerce, however said: “They ( the government ) took chances by allowing so many cruise ships.”

“I would do a screening – not even by the harbour. I would screen them off the harbour because the number of sailors on a cargo ship is a lot less than a passenger ship. So I would do intense screening and testing outside of the harbour,” he explained.

“The North of the Island is two-thirds of your population. You need to move these people to the less populated areas so if (COVID-19) does spread it is not hitting the populous part of the Island,” Dr Mondesir said.

That advice was not welcomed by the ill-defined administration, instead, they are struggling to adapt and quarantine people, presumably, exposed to COVID-19, in hotels at the expense of indigenous taxpayers.

St Lucia set for State of Emergency

Meanwhile, the governor-general of Saint Lucia Sir Emmanuel Neville Cenac, acting under Statutory Instrument No. 39 of 2020 — Constitution of Saint Lucia – Proclamation for Declaration of State of Emergency, proclamation dated March 23, 2020, is however, void of much legal-specifics and national consensus.

Further, the government of Saint Lucia has not prepared the country for COVID-19 health and financial crisis. Delayed measures may have put the people of Saint Lucia at greater risk, experts contend.

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