Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday has called on the government to conduct widespread tests for the deadly coronavirus, COVID-19.
“Priority should be given to those who come into contact with persons who have tested positive for the coronavirus or are suspected of being infected with it. Waiting for symptoms to show before testing is a risky approach that may create more harm,” Friday said in a March 21 letter to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
The New Democratic Party, which Friday leads, released the letter to the media on Tuesday.
The opposition leader also called on the prime minister to explain to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) “what to expect in a worst-case scenario of the spread of the coronavirus in SVG and how government services (especially health services), businesses, transport services and individuals are expected to respond.
“The participation of seasoned medical, public health and other personnel with related expertise drawn from both civil society and the government service should be enlisted in this effort,” he said.
Friday said he was heartened by the declarations of the government’s intention and regional efforts to develop measures to cushion the economic disruption and financial hardship that will result from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The involvement of businesses, financial institutions, trade unions and the Opposition is essential to this planning process and the successful implementation of our ongoing response.”
He, therefore, urged that there be consultation with these entities.
The opposition leader, who represents the Northern Grenadines, a water-scare constituency, called on the government to ensure that water is available to all people throughout SVG so that they can comply with the recommended personal hygiene practices.
In the letter, Friday also called on the government to close the nation’s border to prevent the importation of new cases of COVID-19, even as the nation manages its sole confirmed case, a patient who tested positive on March 11 and is expected to make a full recover.
The opposition leader also suggested stricter social distancing control guidelines, adding that all public gatherings should be discouraged and reduced to only what are necessary to maintain essential public services and promote public health.
Friday said that the members of the opposition “are available to meet appropriately” with the prime minister and other members of the government and public institutions to discuss the NDP’s recommendations further and plan on an ongoing basis for the implementation of a national response to the unprecedented crisis.
He said that experience elsewhere in the world has shown that SVG should hope for the best, it must also plan for the worst.
“This is a time for all of us to hope together and work together to slow the spread of the coronavirus in SVG and manage its impact as effectively as possible.
“As Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party, I have a responsibility to put the national interests before partisan political interests and to work for the common good. In times of crisis in our country, this principle rises to paramount importance. I have repeatedly called on our government, civil society organizations and individuals to acknowledge our present condition and work together for the good of all.
“I renew that call here today. We in the Opposition offer our assistance and commitment to do whatever we can to assist the government and nation to confront and overcome this most serious threat. Prime Minister, I urge that you accept this genuine offer of cooperation in the spirit intended and that we put aside political partisanship as we deal with this existential crisis.”
Gonsalves said on radio on Monday that he will meet this week with the opposition ahead of Thursday’s meeting of Parliament.