Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday, on Sunday night, called on the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to close school immediately and suspend public gatherings of more than 100 people in an effort to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus – COVID-19.
Friday, in a press statement, reiterated that the COVID-19 pandemic “requires that we all work together, without political partisanship, to combat the virus.
“Accordingly, as Leader of the Opposition and President of the NDP, my statements and recommendations on the matter are intended to help the efforts to slow down the spread of the virus and prevent serious illness and loss of life in SVG,” he said.
He noted that there is one confirmed case of COVID-19.
“So, we know that the virus is here. In neighbouring St. Lucia, two cases have been confirmed. Other countries in the region have also reported cases. We cannot test for the virus in SVG and must send samples to Trinidad to be tested,” the opposition leader said.
He said that in many countries around the world, governments have acted to reduce the spread of the virus and protect lives.
“Among our Caribbean neighbours, Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Maarten and Montserrat have closed schools and restricted public gatherings. This has been done even where there is no confirmed case of COVID-19 (e.g. Grenada). Emphasis is being placed on what is referred to as social distancing to reduce the risk of catching and transmitting the virus.”
He urged that similar, stricter measures be implemented in SVG “to stem the spread of the virus and reduce the risk of illness”.
Friday, therefore, called on the government to implement the following measures:
- Close all schools effective immediately and schedule reopening, at the earliest, after the normal
- Easter vacation ending April 13, 2020, during which time the decision should be reviewed.
- Suspend public gatherings of more than 100 persons and the police cease to give or cancel permission for public gatherings involving over 100 persons.
- Suspend the recently announced travel incentive (that is intended to attract regional visitors to SVG).
- Urge public transport providers to sanitize their vehicles regularly.
- Urge employers to permit employees who can do so to work from home.
- Suspend for the remainder of the season visits by cruise ships.
- Require travellers from the USA and the UK to be in home quarantine for 14 days and discourage foreign travel by Vincentians living in SVG until further notice.
- In consultation with financial institutions including the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, the IMF and the World Bank, develop an economic relief package to respond to the economic hardship resulting in SVG from the pandemic.
The opposition leader further said that over the past three months, the NDP has been holding public meetings in villages across the country, and more such meetings were planned.
“However, in light of the recent developments locally and internationally concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, including the confirmation of one COVID-19 case in SVG, I have taken the decision to suspend the meetings and other large gatherings until further notice.”
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, speaking on radio earlier on Sunday, said that his government has the matter under review and may received a recommendation from the Ministry of Education on Monday.
iWitness News, however, was reliably informed that a senior education official, on Friday, proposed that the government closes schools early but this was rejected=.
Gonsalves, on Sunday, raised the issue of supervision of children at home ifs classes are suspended and meal for some children who benefit from the School Feeding Programme.
“In my constituency, which is a typical rural constituency, you close the schools, the children are going to be playing in the playing fields, they are going to be in the villages in the various yards without the proper supervision, without the teachers telling them to keep their hands clean and so on and so forth and without coming into contact in the homes with their grandparent” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister said he thought the argument in that context would have been to keep children at school.
He added: “Then families who are indigent, not just poor, but also some poor families, the School Feeding Programme takes away the problem of lunch for them for their children. I’m asking these questions so that if I get a recommendation, I’m not saying that I am not going to support the closing of schools. You are making our recommendation, I would interrogate whatever recommendation you make,” he said.
‘The world is confronting a challenge’
The opposition leader’s comments came one day after he said that while there is “justifiable fear” about the deadly Coronavirus, COVID-19, Vincentians should desist from spreading inaccurate information.
“Throughout our country, there is justifiable fear among our people. Don’t make it move from fear to panic by spreading inaccurate and sensational stories and misinformation, especially on the ubiquitous social media,” he said at the National Heroes’ Day event at the Obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill, on Saturday.
“Let us use social media as a tool for good not as a harmful device,” Friday said.
“As we look out over this beautiful land, and as we speak of overcoming obstacles and triumphing, there are dark clouds looming on our horizon, and indeed are already hovering over us,” he said at the event that celebrate the life of Vincentian National Hero, Joseph Chatoyer.
“The world is confronting a challenge from the scourge of the corona virus that requires urgent and united action on our part,” he told the wreath-laying ceremony.
Friday noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a pandemic and that last Wednesday, SVG recorded its first confirmed case of the illness.
“This is an extremely serious matter for all Vincentians. It will affect the way we do business and how we go about our daily lives. We must do all we can to protect our lives,” Friday said.
‘each of us can become a hero’
He noted that there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
“The only way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus,” he said, noting that the virus is spread mainly from person-to-person — that is, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) — through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The opposition leader pointed out that experts have said that these droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
“Fellow Vincentians, each of us can become a hero by taking actions to minimise the spread of this virus. Be a hero at home, be a hero in your church, be a hero at your school, be a hero at your workplace and in your community.
“Practicing good health habits and taking the necessary precautionary measures should be everyone’s top priority; it is our duty. It is fitting in this time of crisis and fear that those of us in public life take every opportunity and use our influence and appeal to encourage an attitude within our country and actions from ordinary people that will slow the onslaught of the virus and protect us as best we can,” the opposition leader said.
He urged the public to practice good personal health habits.
Friday urged listeners to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially and after blowing their noses, coughing, or sneezing.
“If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty,” he said.
“Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue,” Friday further advised, and urged persons to clean frequently-touched surfaces (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles) and objects daily using a regular household detergent and water.
The opposition leader said that at the workplace, employers should start doing the following things now:
- Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic
- Wipe surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) regularly with disinfectant; Why? Because contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads
- Promote regular and thorough handwashing by employees and customers
- Put sanitising hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace.
- Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled; this is not a time to be concerned about how often the bottles are refilled. When they are empty, it most likely means people are using them to good effect.
- Make sure that staff and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water, as kills the virus on hands and prevents its spread.
On the topic of promoting good respiratory hygiene at the workplace, he said:
- Display posters promoting respiratory hygiene
- Ensure that facemasks and/or paper tissues are available at your workplaces, for those who may develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them. We must do this because good respiratory hygiene prevents the spread of COVID-19
Friday said it is imperative that everyone practices the guidelines to reduce the spread of the Covid19 virus and ultimately stop it from causing deaths, economic damage and social disruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“For all our mighty works, fearsome weapons of wars, and boasts about our scientific accomplishment as human beings, we cannot help but take note that, even in this modern age, a foe too small to see until it has started it destructive work, brings us to is to a halt in many of the things we took for granted. The instinctive hug or handshake greeting is now forbidden, for our good intentions are no match for the damage such acts will cause as they spread the virus from person to person.”
Friday urged resident of SVG to “hold the hug; hold the peck on the cheek, hold the handshake, we will, by the grace of God and our diligent efforts overcome this too.
“It is in our national heritage — it is in our DNA so to speak — as a people born of Chatoyer and the Garifuna struggles for survival. Our efforts against the virus are evolving, and it would appear that the time has come for us to take more comprehensive and drastic measures here in SVG to combat it. What is clear is that we are all in this together and we must join the rest of humanity to do all we can to stop the spread and reduce the damage,” he said.