Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday, on Monday, called on the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to close the nation’s borders immediately and detail an economic stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He further said that the government should be more definite in its position on social distancing and mass gatherings.
The opposition leader also called on residents of SVG to take personal precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, which has claimed over 16,000 lives internationally.
SVG has one confirmed case of COVID-19, a woman in her thirties who tested positive two weeks ago and is expected to make a full recovery.
“And thank God, it’s one. And we hope that there will be no more but the evidence from all over the world is that that will not remain that way especially since we still have open borders here,” Friday said on his weekly radio programme on NICE Radio.
“And one of the things that I have seen happening throughout the region, and what we must implement here in St. Vincent, is that we have to secure our borders and limit any incoming persons to what is absolutely necessary for travel, to conduct business, that is, trade of essential supplies, and personnel who must travel.”
He said this is what is being done internationally, adding that Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, the British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Bermuda, Dominica, Grenada, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Turks and Caicos have closed their borders to cruise ships and pleasure craft.
Friday warned that SVG should take these measures now, adding that when China took firm action to curb the spread of the disease, Western nations frowned on them.
“… when it was done in China, there was a lot of talk about the nature of the system there and the measures that were implemented and whether this was necessary or not. Obviously, they have brought it to a manageable level there.
“We are seeing in Italy, in Germany today social gatherings of more than two is disallowed unless you are family members. Could you imagine that? Two persons! If you want to walk a dog you have to get a permit to do so,” Friday said.
He said that he received a call from Mayreau on the weekend, where a cruise ship was “disgorging people onto the beach” and residents were “doing the same things that they’re doing — the steel pans were out and playing as if it’s life as normal.
“And he (the caller) was understandably very, very upset. He likened it to Russian Roulette that was being played with people’s lives,” said the opposition leader, who also shadows the tourism ministry.
Friday said that on March 15, he put out a press statement calling for a temporary ban on cruise ships and pleasure craft docking in SVG. However, there were cruise ships in Bequia on the two days after the statement.
“Ordinarily, it’s something that we welcome. The hospitality of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is legendary. But in this time, we can’t pretend that it’s business as usual,” the opposition leader said.
He suggested an official ban to also avoid a situation where nationals become unfriendly to visitors and make them feel unwelcome, adding that this can damage the nation’s tourism product.
He, therefore, suggested that if service providers feel unsafe, they should suspend the provision of their services.
“And it is not alarmist to say that we must take these necessary precautions. We don’t wait until we have a situation where we cannot manage — an outbreak. In St. Vincent and Grenadines, we simply do not have the resources.
“You’ve seen countries where the development of the … healthcare system is sophisticated and best in the world and they quickly become overwhelmed because nobody plans for that level of intake of very seriously ill people needing ventilators and so on. How many ventilators do we have in St. Vincent?” he said.
“Well, not too many … but some of those are needed for just normal use. I mean, that’s why you have ventilators. This is on top of the normal use and these are things that we are able to respond with.
“And so, therefore, we should not put ourselves in a position where we have to make choices that we could have avoided…
“This must stop… The officials will tell you manage what (COVID-19 cases) we have here now in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and protect against any coming in.
“If we have a situation now where we say we have managed the one confirmed case that we have, there has been tracing and it has been contained in that sense, then let’s keep it that way. And don’t risk other persons coming in with the infection,” Friday said.
“Take it as an encouragement to you, and what is happening worldwide as a warning to you. We hope for the best, but you must plan for the worst.”
He said that there are four components of what the NDP thinks that the government should do in respond to the impact of the virus.
Friday said he has repeatedly said that the COVID-19 pandemic “is a national crisis, a national issue, we should get beyond partisanship.
“I wrote to the Prime Minister on Saturday, basically saying the same thing. Let us come together and work on this thing as a nation”.
He said that in the letter, he also offered the assistance and the cooperation, the insights of the opposition”.
The opposition leader said he also encouraged that other members of civil society with expertise, especially in healthcare and public safety, be incorporated into a national response plan.
He said that the nation should not put itself in a position where it has to make choices that could have been avoided.
“If you have to overreact — and I don’t think it’s overreacting to say close the borders to all but essential travel — … do it before, because you will not have the opportunity to do it after.
The opposition leader said he understands the concern of some of the people who work in the tourism industry but noted that the travel bans are in place all over the world.
“Everybody’s being hit with it,” Friday said, adding that the government cannot simply say it is worried about the economic fallout.
“We have to put things in place to deal with the economic fallout,” he said.
“We need to put it out there as quickly as possible. Other countries have done so. Grenada has put out an extensive list of things that they’re doing, financial measures that they’re putting in place through government funding, through NIS (National Insurance Scheme), through withholding of NIS payments, for example,” he said, adding that Barbados has also announced an economic response.
“And it’s better for us to have to deal with the economic fallout and to reconstruct… We are an open economy, a small open economy, what happens outside will affect us in any event. We will have the economic impact, tourists will not be coming in in any numbers and we hope that’s not the case.
“And that is for the time being, so put the limits in place and so that we can have, say, for a 30-day period, a suspension and then we review it at that point,” the opposition said, adding that the pandemic will not be gone in two weeks.
“… many of us, we heard stories from people who are in those situations, people are calling me or sending me messages from Switzerland, from France, and saying you don’t want what’s happening here to come to St. Vincent. Act now! In the United States; act now! And if it’s one piece of advice they give is [to] lock down your borders, stop the flow of people in and out and contain what you are dealing with now.”