St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will not close its borders to the United States amidst the spread of the coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19.
SVG, however, has implemented 14-day quarantine for persons arriving from a number of countries in Asia and Europe that have been significantly impacted by the virus, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives globally.
“A big danger is facing us: coronavirus. We have to be careful that we don’t get hysterical about it. Some people getting hysterical,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told supporters of his Unity Labour Party at its West Kingstown constituency conference on Sunday.
“In addressing this, we have to contain the problem. We have to manage the problem. And we have to find a resolution if anybody gets it in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But we can’t close ourselves off from the world,” he said.
He said that 4,000 people were in quarantine in New York and there were 400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 there.
SVG has a large diaspora in New York, which is believed to be home to more Vincentians that the 110,000 resident in SVG.
“But let me ask this question. We have a lot of people in New York. They’re coming home to visit the family. You want tell me I could stop them from coming to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
SVG has no confirmed cases of the illness and Gonsalves said that his government had to contain the virus and use certain measures to do so.
“You see there are a lot of people who talk and don’t think. Is not an easy business; is a complicated question,” Gonsalves said.
He said that the economies of the Caribbean are already suffering because people do not want to travel amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
“And in some cases, we are preventing some people from coming in depending on the circumstances. But if this thing spread wild in America and this thing spread wild in Canada and spread wild in England — in the United Kingdom — … those three places you get the most tourists, what are we going to do?
“Are we going to lock off ourselves from the world or do we have to use some other kind of more carefully articulated strategies of containment?”
Gonsalves said that SVG has to make sure it has better border control.
“Because I will tell you this. A public health hazard, too, is if you have a problem where people lose their work because of the virus and they have an increase in problems and more violence and break-ins happen. That is also a public health problem.
“So you have to have people who lead and who could analyse the problem very carefully.”
He said that at the moment, SVG has “a particular level of containment”.
The prime minister said that his government wanted to establish an isolation unit in Evesham but residents protested.
The government will, therefore, lease or purchase a property in Argyle for this purpose.
“We will retrofit it, it going cost us more money. We want to buy it. But given climate change, and given the spread of infectious diseases over the last 10, 12, 15 years, SARS, swine flu, bird flu, H1N1, Ebola, … we have to get accustomed to the idea that in the world in which we are facing and going, you’re going to have more and more infectious diseases.
“So we need a couple [of] properly equipped isolation centres — not necessarily for coronavirus, but to keep them in order for what pops up, what comes up,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister added:
“And we have to prepare ourselves as best as we can. Assess it properly. But don’t panic because the worst thing you can do is panic…
“I urge you to make sure we don’t have any community spreading if any [cases of COVID-19] comes to St. Vincent.”
Gonsalves urged observance of proper hygiene, including the washing of hands and proper disposal of garbage.
“You look after yourself because what is happening, these viruses will cause you a lot of damage and maybe kill you if you’re weak; if you have a respiratory problem if you have a heart problem, if you have hypertension — high blood pressure which you have to watch it you have to test it you got to pass by the doctor make sure you try and keep it [in check].
“I know sometimes the food them which we love to eat is some of things which will give us the high blood pressure. So we have to try and learn how to cut out some of those things and we gotta listen to help spread the word and we have to be careful because that is the world which is awaiting us more and more; not hysteria. But when we see them talking, they would make it seem as though they’re wishing that something happen, come ya to gi’ Ralph problem,” the prime minister said.
On Friday, Minister of Health Senator Luke Browne told a press conference in Kingstown that there was a “reasonable likelihood” that COVID-19 would reach SVG.
He said that Kingstown’s response was focused on three areas, namely development of in-country testing capacity and making sure the country has all the medical and other supplies that would be necessary for case management; isolation centre; and comprehensive risk communications campaign.