Residents of a rural village in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) are now running scared after a woman tested positive for the deadly COVID-19 virus on Wednesday, one week after flying in from New York.
The Ministry of Health announced the positive test in a press release on Wednesday, saying that the woman had been in mandatory quarantine since her return home on March 25.
However, villagers told iWitness News that the woman had been walking about the community and coughing.
Villagers, therefore, notified a nurse, who called the COVID-19 hotline, which responded by sending police and an ambulance.
Villagers’ worst fear was confirmed on Wednesday when the woman became the second person in SVG to test positive for the deadly virus.
One villager told iWitness News on Wednesday that the woman was among 16 persons who had made the trip in a minivan from Kingstown to the rural village last Friday.
The infected woman was one of four persons on a seat in the minivan, and sat on the same seat as another person who had two adult children aboard the vehicle.
iWitness News was reliably informed that after arriving in St. Vincent last week Wednesday, March 25, the woman spent two days in Kingstown before travelling to her village.
The woman wore a mask on the journey and fellow commuters and persons she met in Kingstown had inquired about whether she should not be in quarantine.
However, she told then that she had already been in the country for two weeks and had completed her quarantine and was, therefore, setting out for her village.
Nonetheless, the passengers were uneasy as the woman had been coughing during the trip.
“It sounded like a nasty cold on her chest. When she coughed, you could hear it rattle,” one of the passengers told iWitness News.
The passenger said the driver was not aware, until more than halfway through the trip, that the woman had boarded the van.
iWitness News was told that the driver was concerned because the woman had been wearing a mask in Kingstown and during the trip.
But one villager told iWitness News that they are also concerned for other villagers who did not take the van trip.
iWitness News understands that the COVID-19 hotline was asked to look into the case after the coughing woman was in and around her community visiting people.
“Everybody is angry and locking down, asking why she came from New York. She’s been in contact with a lot of people because she is that kind of person; when she come here, everybody has to know,” a villager said.
The villager noted that the woman arrived in the village sometime after 3 p.m., Friday, which means she had the rest of that afternoon up to Saturday evening to interact with people.
The villager further questioned the statement by the Ministry of Health, which said that the woman had been in mandatory quarantine.
“That is not true. She was walking about the village coughing and people called the staff nurse,” the villager said.
The government has instituted a 14-day voluntary quarantine for persons arriving from the United States and a number of other countries.
However, there have been widespread reports of persons breaking the quarantine, with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves saying on radio on Monday that one person who arrived from the United Sates on Saturday held a house party at their house.
The person held the party although, along with the 80 other persons on the flight, he had been issued a court order, had signed a document undertaking to self-quarantine for 14 days and had surrendered their passports as a part of the agreement.
iWitness News understands that the woman who tested positive lives alone, but another woman stays over at night and she had had friends over drinking and hanging out.
The Ministry of Health has been trying to contact persons who might have been exposed to the virus due to having had contact with the woman who has tested positive for COVID-19 and is ordering them to self-isolate until April 15, a villager said.
The persons were reportedly told that health workers would check their temperature and monitor them for other signs of COVID-19.
This development could invigorate the debate about whether SVG should close its borders immediately to all but essential travel in an effort to prevent the importation of additional cases of the disease.
In a national address Wednesday night, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday reiterated his call for an immediate closure of SVG’s borders.
“My friends, it makes sense to secure the 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,” Friday said in the speech, which was broadcast on radio and television.
Gonsalves has maintained that his government would close SVG’s borders if the circumstances so warrant.
The announcement of the second case comes three weeks after SVG registered its first case of COVID-19.
Also on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health announced that the woman who tested positive for the virus on March 11 has received “medical clearance”.
“In order for medical clearance to be issued, 2 successive negative test results had to be received in relation to that patient. These 2 successive negative results have been attained,” the ministry said in a press statement.