Statement on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) by Prime Minister Honourable Allen Chastanet on 16th March 2020
Good Evening fellow Saint Lucians: I know that the past few weeks have been filled with fear and anxiety for many of you but I start by asking everyone to pause and take a deep breath, just for a moment.
As confirmed by the Ministry of Health, over the past few days Saint Lucia now has two imported cases of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus. Our team at the Ministry of Health has been hard at work doing testing, contact tracing, and quarantine where necessary.
Since the start of the spread of the virus in China, the nation led by Ministry of Health and Wellness has been taking steps to prepare for and respond for the likelihood of the virus being introduced into our country.
Due to the novelty of the COVID-19 Virus, Saint Lucia continues to be guided by the advice and protocols of the World Health Organization and other international agencies. We also continue to have regular dialogue with our CARICOM colleagues in order to develop a harmonized strategy for the region.
From the start of the outbreak, the Ministry of Health officials, the Minister of Health, the Chief Medical Officer and I have been in constant engagement with representatives from the Pan American Health Organization, CARICOM, OECS and CARPHA.
As the virus started to spread to the Caribbean, meetings with various agencies and stakeholders have been held to share information, to allay concerns and to obtain feedback. To date we have had meetings and consultations with all key stakeholders including public and private sector agencies, civil society and unions.
The following specific measures have been initiated:
* As early as January 31, 2020 we activated the National Health security Committee to develop the national response plan,
* We undertook assessment of the capacities at the ports and health facilities and other relevant facilities to determine the capacity to respond and identify resource gaps.
* We undertook Training and procurement of resources
* Since February 4, 2020 Saint Lucia imposed its first travel restriction on persons travelling from China and three weeks later extended to include Japan, Republic of Korea, Italy and Singapore
* The Ministry of Health through the Bureau of Health Education commenced a public awareness and education campaign.
On the economic front:
* I have had day and night sessions with the Finance team on the economic impact and efforts we can make to cushion the blow. We have rescheduled the annual Budget exercise as we continue to monitor developments worldwide and we continue to dialogue with the Central Bank, the World Bank, the CDB and the IMF.
* This virus continues to have untold economic impact globally and in particular St Lucia, as we received recent indication of the impending closure of three major hotels.
The impact of the corona virus should be treated as an imminent disaster like a hurricane, therefore on February 28, 2020, I activated the National Emergency Management Advisory Committee (NEMAC), which is the implementing agency in times of national disaster.
Since the crisis began, there has been remarkable cooperation and collaboration at all levels of the society. I am thankful to the Leader of the Opposition and the Members of both houses of Parliament for their participation and support in our efforts.
Our doctors, nurses and other health personnel, Air and Sea Ports personnel, firemen and women, the police have been going beyond the call of duty. They work longer hours than usual, sacrificing time away from family and loved ones. I have met many of them in recent days and my government remains committed to ensure that we do everything to support, protect and resource all our frontline professionals.
They all deserve our support, cooperation and commendation.
I have the ultimate confidence in our health team, led by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George who has been liaising with me and my Cabinet at every turn. I also wish to congratulate the Minister of Health, Sen Hon Mary Isaac for her sterling leadership I take this opportunity to commend her and her staff on their dedication, commitment and competence. Together, we have been coordinating and building the medical and health infrastructure that we anticipate will be required.
As of today, 16th March, 2020, we have assessed the information received and arrived at the following specific immediate decisions to protect the health and security of our nation.
All schools are to remain closed and all related school activities are suspended until further notice. This is a first step in the social distancing protocol and should not be treated as a regular school vacation. The Ministry of Education is collaborating with our telecommunications service providers and will advise of alternative means of delivery of educational instructions to students.
Mass crowd events of more than 50 persons is being discouraged. As a first step the Jazz festival has been cancelled and a meeting with the stakeholders of the cultural and creative industries will be held tomorrow to discuss the way forward for carnival and other events. A further announcement on the implementation of this measure across all sectors will be made
We have suspended all cruise ship calls from Monday March 16, 2020 for the next 30 days.
All yachting and pleasure craft calls into saint Lucia will be suspended with immediate effect.
Effective March 17, 2020, the travel restrictions will be further expanded to Mainland France, Germany, Spain, Iran and the United Kingdom. We have also strengthened our protocols for screening visitors arriving at both the air and sea ports.
As of March 16, 2020, The Ministry of Health activated three (3) respiratory clinics at the Vieux Fort Wellness Center, the Dennery Hospital and the Gros Islet Polyclinic. An additional two clinics will be activated in the coming days to be located at the La Clery Wellness Centre and the Soufriere Hospital. These clinics are intended to take care of persons who have respiratory infections.
A hotline will be operational by the end of this week using the “311” number where citizens will be able to get information on COVID-19.
Mobile telephones will be made available from this week to physicians to provide medical advice via telephone consultation to persons with medical concerns with COVID-19. Further information will be provided during the course of this week.
The Government of Saint Lucia has reached out to friendly governments such as Taiwan, Cuba and India to provide technical support as we strengthen our ability to manage this virus.
I am pleased to note that Testing kits for the coronavirus have arrived on island and staff are currently undergoing training with a testing lab to be set up later this week. This will substantially reduce our waiting time for results from 24 hours to approximately 2-4 hours.
There is no doubt that confronting this virus will test our resources – medical and economic and it will also have a psychological effect. We are now heading to higher alert levels and if we do begin to see cases in the community, we will have to review our decisions and move to more stringent measures.
Dealing with the challenges that this virus will pose, will require constant review, adjustments and change. I will be providing regular updates to the nation as we go along.
It is easy in uncertain times to fall prey to scaremongering. Be assured that the information disseminated by the Ministry of Health will continue to be regular and updated based on the World Health Organization and CARPHA guidelines.
Even in the midst of our fears, we can’t lose our compassion and we must act sensibly and with due attention to be our neighbor’s keeper. If this virus has taught us anything else, it has taught about the obligation we have to care and protect each other. It is in so doing that we shall overcome any threat that COVID-19 could potentially pose to us as a country.
As a prayerful nation, we continue to lift our voices and bend our heads in prayer. In the coming days, we will announce a National Day of Prayer to call upon God’s mercy. Taking into consideration the protocol on social distancing, it will not be a physical gathering but we will ask for everyone’s participation.
May God bless you all and keep you safe and may God continue to bless our Saint Lucia.