Promoters have been ordered to cancel their event and churches have been advised to observe physical distancing or go virtual this New Year’s Eve into the weekend, as health officials try to trace and contain a cluster of local spread of COVID-19.
The development comes as the Health Services Subcommittee of the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), on Thursday, confirmed another COVID-19 case related to the recent cluster of local spread, bringing the total to six.
A second new case confirmed on Thursday is an adult who arrived from the United Kingdom on Dec. 27, tested negative on arrival but tested positive on Dec. 29.
All positive cases are isolated until cleared by two negative tests.
SVG has recorded 121 cases of COVID-19, 98 of which have recovered and 23 are active.
“Intensive contact tracing has identified in excess of 125 contacts of these positive cases. Aggressive testing and quarantining by the COVID-19 Taskforce team are on-going aimed at the containment of the local spread of COVID-19 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” NEMO said in a statement.
The development has resulted in Commissioner Police Colin John announcing a ban on amplified music in public places or private places to which the public has access.
John, in a statement, on Thursday — New Year’s Eve — said that the recommendation is to allow for the required intensive contract tracing, testing and isolation or quarantining needed to contain the evolving cluster of local spread of COVID-19 cases in SVG.
He said that all mass events scheduled to take place between today, Dec. 31, 2020 and Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021 will be postponed to the weekend of Jan. 8 to 10, 2021, in the first instance.
“We acknowledge the significant inconvenience, and more, to the promoters and patrons caused by this ban and sincerely apologise for this unavoidable but necessary public health intervention,” the police chief said.
Meanwhile, speaking on NBC Radio, on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, noted that John had acted on the advice of the Health Services Subcommittee of National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO).
He noted that the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, heads the subcommittee.
“The police and the Health Services Subcommittee of NEMO and everyone really in authority, we are really asking for the cooperation of the promoters and the patrons,” said Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security.
“This is a necessary and desirable decision in respect of the health of the individuals and the nation and that the possibility opens itself for the events to be held next weekend, provided that everything is in order in terms that sufficient contract tracing has been completed and the like,” the prime minister said.
He, however, said that the Health Services Subcommittee would deal with that decision.
“And we sincerely regret the inconvenience, and more, because there would have been some expenses by the promoters. We regret really the inconvenience, and more, that this decision has brought about, but it is considered to be necessary and desirable from a health standpoint.
“We have to be careful. It was not an easy decision to make but we have to accept the advice of the Health Services Subcommittee and particularly of the CMO, Dr. Keizer-Beache and the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Roger Duncan.
The development comes as many Christians are preparing for their final church service of the year, which is usually timed to end during the first hour of the New Year.
The prime minister said that the Health Services Subcommittee would be issuing a statement in relation to churches.
He, however, said:
“Many people go to church service on New Year’s Eve and, similarly, on Saturday, the Seventh-day Adventists and then on Sunday, other Christian denominations. And as far as practicable, we do the social distancing, and in case where you do the service online or you do it over the radio. We have been that road before and this is just being careful and prudent.”
Gonsalves said he had spoken to two of the major promoters of events that were scheduled for the holiday weekend.
“I think they understand. I haven’t gotten to all the promoters and those I haven’t gotten to, I hope they, too, will understand”.
He said that there are many ways in which residents of the country could enjoy themselves at home on New Year’s Eve.
“We have our families and our neighbours and we know how to do these things and we don’t have to have the amplified music and we don’t have to have the crowds — not tonight, not this weekend. Just as we did at Easter time, just cool it and just enjoy yourself quietly and we will see what the contact tracing does this week.”
The prime minister said that health officials want to give health workers “the chance to just pursue all the leads in respect of the contact tracing and the testing and we should give them the time.
“I don’t think that is unreasonable. Some places have been locked down, this is just a measure to assist the Ministry of Health with their contact tracing and to, at this moment, contain the spread of COVID-19…
“This particular moment, we have to let the proper contact tracing be done, and the Ministry of Health, the Heath Services Subcommittee, the chief Medical Officer, and the Medical Officer of Health, they have been doing quite a good job and we must listen to them and what they are asking is quite reasonable in the circumstances.
“There is no need to panic. We ramp up when it is necessary and desirable to ramp up and we relax the regulation when that is also required. So this is just another stage in the process of dealing with COVID-19,” Gonsalves said.
“We have to live well with it and we have been doing good so far, with sensible application. And what they have advised the police to do in respect of these big events this evening, it’s a sensible application of the principle of having a balance –not being complacent, at the same time, not being hysteria, not overestimating, not underestimating; do things in a sensible, balanced manner.”