Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Sunday, said he had suggested that the Chief Medical Officer, Simone Keizer-Beache issue an advisory on Easter celebrations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, Keizer-Beache issued the advisory hours later, raising questions about who is advising whom on the public health elements of the pandemic.
In the advisory, Keizer-Beache urged churches to not have physical gatherings on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
She further urged persons to follow the “STAY SAFE! STAY AT HOME!” practice as it relates to social gatherings.
Her statement also included hygiene precautions to observe when travelling in public vehicles and standing in crowded places and the correct use of cloth masks.
In his comment earlier on Sunday, the prime minister, speaking on WE FM, said that Easter is coming and he had talked to Keizer-Beache and other doctors, but noted that the CMO is the chief advisor to the government on public health.
“I said, you know, we need, perhaps, to do an advisory from Good Friday to Easter Monday. And she said she was thinking about that, because when you work together, you tend to anticipate each other too,” Gonsalves said.
“And, she is working on that draft advisory as I speak,” he further said.
In her advisory, the CMO suggested that rather than having a psychical gathering on Good Friday, churches should consider a national day of prayer led by religious leaders broadcasting from various media houses.
The prime minister had made a similar suggestion when he spoke on radio last Thursday.
He said that some “people who don’t have any faith” might dismiss as rubbish the idea of praying for the nation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Well, I happen to think that the vast majority of people would like the church men to have a day of prayer where they, it could be just one hour … of prayer, where you have two or three pastors — they select them, they do prayer and one person does a 12-15 minute homily,” Gonsalves said last week.
He suggested that the prayer session could be streamed online and broadcast live.
In her advisory on Sunday, Keizer-Beache said for their Easter services, church should consider broadcasting by radio and on social media platforms a national ecumenical Easter Sunday service.
This service, she said, should be conducted by a limited number of representative ministers and pastors, from a single place of worship capable of safely accommodating these officials.
“If physical gatherings must continue, then there must be strict enforcement of physical distancing in places of worship to ensure that persons are at least 3 feet apart from each other,” the chief medical officer said.
Regarding social events, Keizer-Beache said there should be no boat rides, picnics, goat cook, beach outings, river outings, parties or any other social gatherings whether private or public.
“Van drivers are asked to protect themselves and their families by supporting this ‘STAY SAFE! STAY AT HOME!’ guidance by staying off the roads for this period.”
The CMO further stated:
“If traveling in public vehicles and standing in crowded places, the correct use of cloth masks (with a pouch to hold a surgical mask or flannel piece to provide additional protection) by the public is an acknowledged option. The correct and safe use of masks requires that the front of the mask is not touched, and they are washed regularly… If caring for someone at home, use a surgical mask. Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers are encouraged.”
Keizer-Beache said that her recommendations for limiting non-essential contact are guided by scientific evidence and will go a long way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
St Vincent and the Grenadines now has seven confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“The support and corporation of all citizens are needed at this time, if we are to minimize any further spread of COVID-19,” Keizer-Beache said.
Meanwhile, in his comments on Sunday, Gonsalves also urged persons to stay at home over the Easter weekend.
“Well, we should encourage people not to go to the beach because they’re going to gather in large numbers at the various beaches,” he said, adding, “So we say let’s use this as an opportunity to stop the extent of the interaction over a period where you have a lot of jollification.”