• Ministry promises to be ‘transparent with any news that we might have’
• SVG to ‘move away from the idea of preventing importation to managing cases in-house’
The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) said Wednesday that it had no intention, at the time, to carry out a “broad-based ban on travel from Europe or from any other particular part of the world”.
Minister of Health Senator Luke Browne outlined the government’s position at a press conference at which he announced that SVG had one confirmed — imported — case of the coronavirus, COVID-19.
The patient is a Vincentian woman, aged between 30 and 35, who had travelled to the United Kingdom for a meeting.
At the press conference, it was noted to the minister that the United States had announced a 28-day ban on travellers from Europe, beginning on Friday.
Browne said that the story was a developing one “that will need to be assessed before we could really comment on it reasonably”.
He, however, said that Kingstown had implemented quarantine restrictions for persons traveling from certain countries, including countries in Europe, such as Italy.
“… it’s an evolving situation and we assess things as they develop. There’s no intention at this moment to carry out a broad-based ban on travel from Europe or from any other particular part of the world,” Browne said.
He said his government’s approach is to try, as best as possible, to manage the risk that is associated with COVID-19 “and just to keep everybody in the loop on what we’re doing in terms of case management, make sure that when there’s information that comes to hand, we share that information with the public, you understand that we are being very transparent with any news that we might have.
“So you could more or less take care of yourself and take care of your health. So, the wide scale travel ban is not something that is really on the table at this moment. But, of course, we assess the situation as it evolves to make sure we do our best for risk prevention,” the health minister said.
He reiterated that the case in SVG is an individual who was exhibiting mild symptoms, adding that this is consistent with what would happen in most cases of COVID-19.
“So we reiterate that 80% of the persons who get COVID-19 will only develop a mild version of the disease,” he said.
Browne said most persons are expected to recover fully, and that is what his ministry expects in the sole confirmed case in SVG.
“And we note that only persons who are very old — and by very old, we basically mean over 80 — and if you have underlying health conditions are really especially vulnerable to this and, and this makes it, as far as its epidemiological profile is concerned, something comparable to flu and other ailments that we have a lot of experience with,” he said.
“So what we’re saying here is that we could draw on our vast experience in some of these other areas to make sure that we try to keep this COVID-19, this coronavirus, in check. That’s what we’re doing.”
He said that is why his ministry is reinforcing some standard practices such as hand washing and respiratory hygiene that can minimise the spread of infection.
“So we really want to commend that to you, in the public, and to assure you that we will continue to monitor the situation with a view to best manage risk, protect your safety and, at the same time, ensure that we could continue with our regular lives in as best a way as possible.”
Meanwhile, speaking at the same press conference, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache said that the fact that the United States has decreased flights from Europe “adds to our buffer a bit”.
The disease originated in China and Keizer-Beache noted that it has gone from an epidemic in individual countries to a pandemic — meaning that every country is likely to be affected.
“… unless you’re going to shut your borders completely, as Italy has done, you’re not going to be able to limit all access to your port,” she said.
Keizer-Beache added that that is why, along with border control measures, “emphasis needs to be on the strengthening of your capacity to deal with cases to move away from the idea of preventing importation to managing cases in-house”
This, she said, had been the advice of the World Health Organisation, the Pan-American Health Organisation and the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
“And I’m not sure if you notice that that is what we have been moving towards — building capacity in-country to deal with cases,” she said.
Keizer-Beache said that with the illness having gone from an epidemic to a pandemic, “the chances of preventing importation are decreased.
“I’m not sure if you heard [that] Guyana has confirmed their first case today. So that’s Guyana, Jamaica had a second case. We have our case and I’m sure over the next few days, other islands in the region will have their first cases. Why? Because that’s just the nature of a pandemic. So, your focus needs to be in terms of reducing spread in-country, and managing those cases in-country adequately,” she said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that SVG will not close its borders to the United States, even as he noted the spread of the disease in New York, which is home to a large Vincentian diaspora.