Minister of Health St. Clair “Jimmy” Prince, on Wednesday, told Parliament that the COVID-19 situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not meet the World Health Organisation definition of “community transmission”.
He further said his government did not drop the ball as it relates to managing the spread.
Prince was responding to a question by Opposition Leader, Godwin Friday, who noted that there has been a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in SVG in recent weeks with most of the positive cases involving persons with no recent travel history.
“Will the minister agree that this situation means that there is community spread of the disease in this country, and will he further agree that the government dropped the ball by failing to put in force effective measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines?” Friday asked.
As of Wednesday, SVG had recorded 798 cases of the virus, 657 of which were local cases — cases detected among residents with no recent travel history.
The local cases began to emerge on Dec. 28.
Responding to the opposition leader’s question, the health minister noted the WHO’s March 13, 2020 definition of “community transmission”.
“Community transmission is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories),” the WHO says.
Prince noted that the official WHO definition does not reference “no recent travel history”.
He said that for the majority of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in SVG, the chains of transmission have been identified as contacts of known positive cases and, therefore, not in keeping with the definition of community transmission.
Rather, the transmission patterns currently being found are more in keeping with clusters of cases, defined as cases that are clustered in time, geographical location and or by common exposures, Prince told Parliament.
“There are clusters associated with ministerial departments, churches, parties, private sector workplaces and families,” the health minister said.
“Many of these clusters have linkages. This categorisation is the one assigned to St. Vincent and the Grenadines by PAHO in the COVID-19 situation update 115 issued on Jan. 22, 2021.”
Prince said that his ministry’s epidemiology unit will continuously review the transmission patterns to determine what category best describes the disease in SVG as this categorisation contributes to the various strategic interventions implemented in the battle against COVID-19 in SVG.
He said that the government did not mismanage the spread of the viral illness.
“The government did not drop the ball,” Prince said.
“Rather, the extensive measures implemented succeeded in preventing the rise in cases of COVID-19 in SVG for 10 months, which was seen in every neighbouring country throughout 2020.
He noted that between March 11 and Dec. 26, 2020, this country recorded 110 cases even as neighbouring countries such as St. Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad, Martinique, and Barbados were experiencing “scores of cases for months”.
“The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, through a NEMO-coordinated response led by the Health Services Sub Committee, working closely with the Ministry of National Security, implemented continuously and adapted measures in keeping with the constantly-changing knowledge and epidemiology of the COVID-19 pandemic and local events and situations,” he said.
“Close attention was paid to measures implemented in other nations, their successes and their failures, emerging knowledge about the virus and measures suitable to the context of the multi-island state that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is. And, these were developed.
“The multi-pronged strategy included reducing the risk of the introduction of the virus into St. Vincent and the Grenadines, while strengthening the country’s capacity to detect, test, treat and contain the virus,” the health minister said.
“Poor compliance with existing protocols while persons are outside the mandatory quarantine hotels is without doubt a problem. This is not unique to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and is found in countries even with draconian measures,” Prince told Parliament.