Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday on Wednesday night urged St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) against having “a false sense of security” amidst the COVID -19 pandemic.
Friday, in a national address recorded before health officials disclosed that SVG has registered a second case of the deadly virus, called on the government to quarantine all persons arriving in SVG, regardless of where they are coming from.
He further called on the closure of the nation’s borders to all but essential personnel, including nationals.
“Every country in the world now has COVID-19. That is, after all, why it is called a global pandemic. So, all arrivals from any country must be considered to be potential carriers of the virus and must be handled as such,” the opposition leader said.
He further called on the government to review its policy of in-home isolation or self-regulated quarantine, saying that it is “dangerous, because it is unenforceable”.
“Even when the authorities seize the passports of people on arrival, as is being done in some cases, this cannot guarantee compliance with the quarantine requirements. And a guarantee of compliance — not merely a likelihood — is what is required in the present circumstances,” Friday said.
The opposition leader said the government must ensure that all persons observe the quarantine fully.
“The stakes are simply too high to have it otherwise,” he said, adding that this calls for a government-operated isolation facility to house all new arrivals for the 14-day quarantine period.
“It is the only way to protect the public from potential harm and prevent the spread of the virus in our country,” he said.
Friday chronicled the history of the deadly coronavirus, COVID-19, which has infected 921,000 persons and claimed 46,000 lives internationally since it emerged in China in December 2019.
The virus has since spread to all parts of the world, including the Caribbean with registering one case on March 11 — a woman in her 30s who has since recovered.
Health officials say that the woman tested positive after returning from a meeting in the United Kingdom about four days earlier.
Friday said that across the region, as is the case internationally, the numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rise daily as more testing is done.
“In SVG, we have done very little testing thus far,” he said, noting that at the last report, only 33 tests had been done.
“The World Health Organisation has made it clear that countries cannot truly know how they stand with respect to the spread of the coronavirus until they have done widespread testing,” he said.
He added that the advice of the Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “to all governments, including ours, is to test, test, test.
“We should follow that advice,” the opposition leader said.
“COVID-19 spreads very easily; in fact even more easily than health officials had earlier thought. It is spread from person to person, even from a person who has no symptoms of the disease. So, someone who thinks he/she is fine may be unknowingly carrying the virus and transmitting it to others through normal social interaction.
“This makes it extremely dangerous and the drastic responses to it, we have seen all over the world. Every responsible action that we take now, will help to reduce the spread of the virus and disease in SVG and save lives.”
He said that in this time, SVG needs “leadership, direction and clarity”.
The opposition leader said he was very concerned that the government “has still not heeded calls to close our seaports and airports to all but essential travel and commerce”.
He said that nearly all other Caribbean countries and many countries worldwide have seen it necessary to do so.
“Closing the country’s borders is a critical step in reducing the spread of the virus,” the opposition leader said, adding that it makes sense to close SVG’s borders for a while.
“This would allow us to deal with the situation inside the country without having also to manage new arrivals, and worry about what might come in on the next flight or on the yachts that enter our ports at Wallilabou, Kingstown and Blue Lagoon.
“Our situation in SVG of having only one confirmed COVID-19 case should not lure us into a false sense of security. For even if we manage to put out a spark in our own house, we must acknowledge that the fire continues to rage outside, and that it still threatens to engulf us.
“In fact that threat grows greater, not less, by the day. So, clearly, we are not out of the woods yet — not by a long shot.”
Friday said this means that the nation must do all it can to protect its people.
“This requires closing our borders for a while by suspending all arrivals at our airports and seaports, except essential travellers (including nationals) and commerce. We would then review the decision as conditions change.
“Taking this action now will give us the best chance of avoiding more cases of COVID-19 in SVG and of reducing the risk of an outbreak that may overburden our fragile healthcare system. The situation, as it is now, is creating unacceptable risks to the health and safety of our people. It is better to be safe than sorry.
“As the situation stands, with all airports and some seaports open, and with very limited testing for the disease being done, the only reasonable measure that can protect the public is to quarantine all arrivals into the country, wherever they come from,” Friday said.
Last Friday, one day after arguing against immediate closure of the nation’s borders, Prime Minster Ralph Gonsalves ordered the closure of ports of entry in Union Island, Canouan and Bequia, citing incidents involving yachts and the SVG Coast Guard.
On Saturday, the police force announced that the seaport in Mustique had also been closed.