Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has defended, as reasonable, the conditions his government has set out for the repatriation of Vincentian workers on cruise line and oil rigs
These employers must be willing to pay EC$150 a night for the Vincentians to be quarantined in at a hotel in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) for 14 to 21 days.
Further, among other things, each returning Vincentian must have a certificate of health, containing information about the person’s exposure to any COVID-19 positive or suspected cases and any objective screening for COVID-19 the returning Vincentian has undergone.
“Now, will somebody tell me what is wrong with these?” Gonsalves said on WE FM on Sunday.
The government has been accused, in some quarters, of trying to extort money from the cruise industry in light of the government’s demand that the cruise workers be quarantined in hotels or guesthouses.
Some persons have noted that Kingstown did not impose quarantine requirement for Cuban health workers — as other CARICOM capitals did – when they arrived in Kingstown in late March.
Gonsalves’ explanation was that the Cubans had been quarantined before departing Havana.
However, some of his critics have pointed out that the cruise workers have been in quarantine for weeks, some of them more than a month, living alone without in-person human interaction.
On Sunday, the prime minister said:
“There is no objection, in principle, in quarantining anybody in their homes. But given the large number, it would be easier done if we do them at hotels or guest houses with proper security and the like.”
Gonsalves said that head of the Port Authority, Bishen John, was appointed to interface with the cruise lines but always in relation to the Ministry of Health’s “Protocol for the Repatriation of Vincentian Crew Persons”.
“Bishen John took a while in finding the rooms and then, subsequently, he reported that he got enough rooms. He negotiated a price of EC$150 per night including three meals, which is a very good price,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that the Ministry of Health is asking the cruise lines, among other things, to give details of the person’s current health status, their exposure to any COVID-19 positive or suspected cases, and the details of any objective screen for COVID-19 that the returning Vincentians have undergone.
Gonsalves said that the Ministry of Health also required the address at which the person would stay for 14 to 21 days of quarantine.
“There’s some people who say well, ‘Why 21 [days]? WHO (World Health Organization) says 14; that is the norm.’
“But we have had persons quarantine here already for 21 days because there are certain things that you see in relation to the transmission that you need 21 days about. … So, it could be 14, it could be up to 21…”
Gonsalves said that WHO, the Pan American Health Organisation and the Caribbean Public Health Agency recognise “this scientific proposition” and SVG’s experience “teaches it”.
“You know, we had from one cruise ship 32 persons … and four of them had symptoms. They tested positive. That is four out of 36. That’s one-ninth. … That’s about 11%.
“Then of the others, we tested 29 who were asymptomatic. And out of those 29 from this high-risk group, three of them or just over 10% tested positive… So that is seven out of a group of 36.
“So we have an experience in dealing with persons who from the cruise ships,” Gonsalves said.
He added that it has been said that the cruise line from which that group of Vincentians came “has been the best of the major cruise lines in terms of doing all the observances”.
The prime minister continued:
“So, we have an experience, too, in addition to what we know about other guidelines.
“Now, what is wrong in sending the total number of persons to be repatriated — they come in by plane or boat — the full name, date of birth, passport number, contact number and address, a certificate of health issued by the national health authority of the country of departure, get it from the authority in in Florida, in Miami, or wherever the ship is with these persons?”
He said those same principles will apply to Vincentians returning from work on oil rigs and are being housed in different parts of the south of the United States.
“Then the reason why you want the certificate of health, you don’t want the cruise line just to tell you that they’re healthy. Do you want just a cruise line doctor to tell you that they’re healthy?”
He said that the health certificate can come from the city government from which the cruise workers depart and not necessarily from the national or federal authorities.
Gonsalves said that if the returning sailor wants to stay at their personal home or rent a guest house, they have to tell the government where it is located, as well as provide a contact number so that the government can examine the accommodation beforehand.
“… a construction company in Tortola, in the BVI, they wanted to send home 30 workers. And we asked for their names and the contact persons and so on, and the facilities … for them to quarantine in.
“And less than 10 of those where they gave the contact numbers for was suitable for the quarantining.
“In fact, one person himself called me and told me that the place where he has quarantined is either five or six persons live in it already — a two-bedroom house with one bathroom. He say, ‘Well, I can’t quarantine there.’
Gonsalves said it is a “terrible lie that we were charging the cruise line.
“Absolutely not true. And it’s painful, I must tell you this, for this man who’s talking to you, that I was upfront early, when everybody was saying keep them out in the way in which some of the governments in this region and across the world was saying keep your nationals out. And I said, but we cannot keep our nationals out.”
The prime minister said he received a lot of messages from families and cruise ships, “saying thanks for establishing that principle and we hope you work out this thing in time to relieve us of this pain why we still have to be on this vessel”.
The prime minister said that the cruise workers are cabins and in guest rooms on the cruise ships and are being taken care of “fairly okay”.
“But, obviously, you want to come home with a family,” he said.
He said that a problem that came up two weekends ago was that the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) told the cruise lines that they have to submit the protocols for getting the workers from the ship to the airport.
“And they told Bishen that they will make that submission during the course of this week here, which has gone and on Monday, which would be tomorrow, they will indicate what is the position,” Gonsalves said.