Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday has suggested ways to contain the local spread of COVID-19, which has infected 255 persons since Dec. 28.
Speaking at a New Democratic Party press conference on Wednesday, the opposition leader blamed the government for the current situation, but said everyone in St. Vincent and the Grenadines must do all that they can to contain the situation.
Friday said the position of the New Democratic Party (NDP), of which he is president, has always been that COVID-19 is not a political virus.
“The problem is not a partisan problem. It is one that calls upon us, everyone to play their part. So, therefore, we have to all be singing, pretty much, from the same song sheet, because we want everybody to participate to do what is necessary to keep themselves and their neighbours safe,” the opposition leader said.
He said he was, therefore, using the press conference to reiterate certain things regarding managing the spread of the virus and the economic fallout from it.
Friday said that some of the things that the NDP has mentioned in the past are still relevant today.
“But the problem is, they have not been effectively implemented. This is why we are where we are now and that may well be because of this perception, the eagerness by those in government to project that we are somehow in control and past this. We are doing better than everybody else. That kind of arrogance doesn’t impress, obviously, the coronavirus,” Friday said.
“Now we must do all we can to bring the situation under control.”
The opposition leader said the nation must secure its ports of entry to ensure all persons are properly checked and handled appropriately in light of all the information we have gathered from dealing with the virus since March 2020.
The country must enforce quarantine measures strictly, through effective monitoring and follow up, Friday said, adding that this is advised by experts and ordinary people and is common sense and practical.
“One of the complaints that we had heard in the past is that the government, the authorities, they say you must do this and do that and you hear that people aren’t following up, nobody calling to tell you what your test say, checking up on you to make sure that the persons are observing the quarantine, that people are not visiting them and then leaving and going somewhere else with the potential risk of infecting other persons,” Friday said.
The ministry of health said separately on Wednesday, that three persons who knew they had COVID-19 had flouted the isolation protocol and this might have contributed to the local spread of the illness since Dec. 28.
“These are things you have been hearing for so long and I have said and others when they tell me how the situation has been so well managed, I say partly, it has to do with the luck we have had that did not result in the situation we have now today,” Friday said.
“And, quite frankly, I was thankful for that because nobody wants to go back into a situation where everybody feels so insecure that we can’t function as an economy, as a society. But it has been brought upon us now.”
Manage hotel quarantine strictly
He said that as part of this, the authorities must ensure that resort guests stay on resort until mandatory quarantine is completed.
“From high-risk countries, that’s 14 days. I have heard complaints that there are different quarantine procedures for different kinds of hotels. The concept of a bubble resort and that those persons in those facilities are not being strictly monitored.”
Friday said he spoke last week Monday, Jan. 4, with Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache about this and she had assured him that the monitoring was being done effectively.
“But I get complaints from my own community and persons elsewhere that what is happening doesn’t inspire confidence that, in fact, the monitoring and the securing of these guests is being done effectively. And if that is the case, then, again, we are taking unnecessary risk,” said Friday, who is MP for the Northern Grenadines, which includes Bequia and Mustique.
He said everyone wants to return to normal and have the economy going but said it is not a choice between the economy and health.
Ramp up testing
The opposition leader also called on the authorities to ramp up testing, including random testing and testing of persons who want to know their COVID-19 status.
“The goal must be to test as many people as possible; that is the only way we can reassure people as to the extent of the spread that is taking place now.”
The opposition leader further said that this has to be done on a continuous basis, adding that someone who tested negative last August could become infected since then.
“But the fact that we have so many cases coming out of the community and they’re not sure how far it’s gone, from where it emanated, says to me that a common sense approach is to find out, not just test those persons who you know have been exposed to somebody who has tested positive, the so-called contact tracing but to get ahead of it and test as many persons as possible,” Friday said.
Make face mask mandatory in public
He also called for the mandatory wearing of masks in public places including on public transportation, something which the government has rejected.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Wednesday, suggested that this could result in police resources being used to enforce such a provision.
However, the government has made the wearing of masks mandatory for state employees when they are on the job and for members of the public visiting government compounds.
Friday said that the government must facilitate the importation of masks.
The opposition leader called for the staff rotation in the public sector, and the recording of the names and temperature checks of persons attending church services, even though limited to 10.
He further called for increased public awareness of the need to continue to practice COVID safe personal hygiene, to overcome the so called “COVID fatigue”—wash hands regularly, cough in tissue or elbow, no handshakes or hugs; wear masks; monitor own temperature when feeling unwell; avoid gatherings; stay home as much as possible.
The opposition leader further suggested the installation of hand-washing stations at bus terminals and assisting van and ferry operators to sanitize their vehicles regularly.