Chief Medical Officer Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache says she has not recommended that the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) close the country’s borders in response the COVID-19 pandemic.
She gave her position in Kingstown on Thursday, three weeks after she had said, “closing borders can be a way of containment, but there are other ways of containment”.
SVG remains one of the few CARICOM countries that have not closed its borders as a result of the respiratory illness.
And, at a press conference in Kingstown on Thursday, Keizer-Beache, who is the government’s chief advisor on public health matters was asked if she had, at any time, advised that the borders be closed or advised that there be any curfew condition imposed.
She was asked if she had not so advised to say why she did not.
“I have not done that,” Keizer-Beache said.
“My advice has always been in terms of who is coming into the country, and what do we do with them because the aim is to contain and also the recognition that when you close your borders, you have to eventually open them.
“When you close your borders, you are going to protect your population for a period of time. But as you protect your population, that is what we will call a virgin population, an unexposed population. And when you reopen, what you were keeping out would come in to that same population.”
While SVG has not formally closed its borders, the country receives very few flights as most commercial airlines servicing the destination have suspended services.
The country had also imposed 14 days quarantine for all persons entering its borders, whether by air or sea.
Keizer-Beache said her position “has always been controlling the process, giving us time to slow but also recognising that once — always recognise, always recognise that this — unless we are going to stay closed until there is a vaccine — and that might be 18 months — and then once there’s a vaccine, the entire country, we have a massive vaccination programme, unless you’re going to do that, the belief that you can close and forever protect your population, I think, is an error.
“Rather, we have control. And we understand what’s coming. That’s why I said earlier, we have to learn to live with this. Whether that is strengthening our surveillance, whether that is strengthening our capacity to quickly isolate, quarantine, manage, that has to be your focus, you build that capacity, rather than assuming that you can forever prevent something that will come.”
Asked to clarify whether she said it is an error, Keizer-Beache said:
“I’m not sure if I said an error, but my position is that this will happen.”
She said there might be some small islands in the Pacific that have not recorded any cases of COVID-19 “as yet”.
“As yet,” Keizer-Beache said, adding, “Once travel restarts, you will. So whatever time you have without you should be building your systems to deal with it.
“We had H1N1, H1N1 is with us. But we have learned to detect, we have learned to maintain our public health, basic things. So what are we saying despite all the technology, we still come back to basic public health: contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, wash your hands. Basics,” the chief medical officer said.
Three weeks ago, on April 3, the chief medical officer was asked, “from a public health or epidemiological perspective, what are the main arguments for or against closing national borders at a time of a pandemic such as COVID-19”.
Keizer-Beache had said border closure can be a way of containment, but there are other ways of containment.
She did not mention or elaborate on the other ways of containment, but said that depending on the situation, “you can apply the different ways of containment.”
The chief medical officer had further stated:
“So we need containment in terms of what — when do you need containment? As it is now, we started, as prime minister said, very early on, to look at who, where our greatest risk was coming from.
“And at the beginning, that risk was from Wuhan, was from China. And therefore, we implemented the quarantine requirement for persons coming from China. And so, even though the borders were not closed, anybody coming from China was contained. And so containment can happen in different ways. And I would leave it at that.”