Over 40 — and possibly as many as 44 — households in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have been placed on quarantine for 14 days in light of the coronavirus — COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health made the decision after 39 students and five adults from the Girls’ High School (GHS) returned prematurely, on Monday, from an educational tour to Guadeloupe, which then had three cases of COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health said, on Tuesday, that as more countries report community spread of COVID–19, mandatory quarantine of travellers from these countries would be implemented.
“It is based on this public health practice that a group of students, teachers and chaperones who recently returned from Guadeloupe are on mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Household members of these persons have been advised to voluntary quarantine themselves,” the ministry said in a press statement.
The ministry, however, did not disclose the number of persons whom the quarantine would affect.
However, the parents of one of the students spoke to iWitness News, on Tuesday, on condition of anonymity, saying that the quarantine, even for persons who did not take part in the trip, was mandatory.
They said that the group left for Guadeloupe on March 10 after the school consulted with the Ministry of Health, in Kingstown, about the potential risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“Martinique had one case at the time. Advice was sought from the Ministry of Health, and as far as the headmistress and the teachers at the Girls High School indicated, they sought advice from the Ministry of Health and they were contemplating cancelling the entire thing.
“They were assured, from a high level, that if it became necessary, a plane would be sent for the children. This was said at the highest level,” the father said, adding that he relied on the advice from the government of SVG in making the decision to send his daughter.
The couple also noted that, at the time of the trip, Guadeloupe had no confirmed cases of the deadly virus and regional health agencies were saying the chance of it reaching the Caribbean was low.
However, during the trip, both Guadeloupe and SVG confirmed their first case of the virus.
While SVG only has one case, the number in Guadeloupe had reached three by Monday, when the GHS decided to end the tour and return to SVG, the parent said.
The mother told iWitness News that health officials in SVG had spoken to the students and teachers, telling them about measures to reduce their likelihood of contracting COVID-19.
“They walked with whatever they had to walk with and all of that,” she said.
The mother said that after Guadeloupe recorded its first case of COVID-19, the GHS tour group cancelled visits to places that had large crowds.
On Monday, the students went on a sea tour. After the tour, they had lunch and then the school officials told the students that they had 15 minutes to pack and get ready to leave Guadeloupe because France was going to close its borders, the mother said.
She said that arrangements were made and One Caribbean airline sent two aircraft to bring the group back to St. Vincent.
The mother said that she got a text message from the teacher in charge of the tour and the class teacher from GHS also called to say that they had decided to return to SVG prematurely.
However, one parent has complained publicly that neither he nor his wife was informed of the decision to end the trip.
He said they had to be making multiple calls in an effort to get information on their daughter’s return flight, including its estimated time of arrival.
The mother said that when the aircraft arrived in St. Vincent, sometime around 8 p.m., on Monday, a female health worker, dressed in white and wearing a jacket, met the group and escorted them to a room and took each individual’s temperature.
“Then they had some random students they just selected to take for further checks, they claim,” the mother said.
“When the children came out, they came out crying because of the way they were treated. In my daughter’s opinion, is like they were being scorned and other people came on another flight and they just went straight into Immigration and out before the students got through,” the woman told iWitness News.
The mother said that after the children cleared with Immigration and Customs, the parents were told that the children would have to be quarantined at home for 14 days.
However, on Tuesday morning, parents received telephone calls saying that they should not go to work and that they and their households have to be quarantined for 14 days, the mother said.
She told iWitness News:
“Now, we are talking about 44 households, at least, plus the chaperones. My problem is they did not do a swab to say any of these children have coronavirus. People have been travelling in an out of countries [where the coronavirus is present]. Why are they treating these children like that? I don’t understand that; that is my concern.
“They sent the children home with us and now we are being told, the following morning, that the parents also will have to be quarantined.
“One person I know reported to work and her principal sent her home back,” the woman said.
“Now, we don’t mind following procedure. If this has to be done, it has to be done but our main concern is the way it was done.”
Meanwhile, the woman’s husband said it is “impossible” to quarantine his entire household “because somebody from this household will have to acquire the things that we need to survive”.
The man continued:
“If you have a quarantine centre, you have nurses, whoever, whatever, people are assigned to take care of these people, to make sure they get their meals, to make sure they get whatever necessary medication and so forth.
“In this case, you quarantine people at home and they have to provide for themselves, which means they have to go to the supermarket or stay home and starve.”
The couple said that one of them is retired and the other still employed.
There is also an adult son who lives in the house and works.
“He hasn’t been sent home from his job. He is working with a private company, which, I doubt, would send him home and pay him. I assume that the teachers who have been sent home will still be paid,” the man said.
He said his family would have to wait and see how the quarantine might affect the family, financially.
They said that their daughter is fine, although, initially, she had “a feeling of hurt.
“She came back expecting to be welcomed home and basically, they said personnel who took their temperature was basically standing as far away [as possible],” the father said.
The mother added: “In her words, they were being scorned.”