PRIME Minister, Allen Chastanet, and Guy Joseph, Minister for Economic Development, Housing, Urban Renewal, Transport and Civil Aviation addressed the nation on Monday to provide an update on Saint Lucia’s national response to COVID-19.
Joseph made it abundantly clear, in the name of social distancing, that minibus operators were allowed to carry no more than 10 passengers at any given time. He said that route permits of minibus operators who violated this rule would be suspended and that minibuses may also be impounded as a result. He said that the Minibus Association and the Executive of the National Council on Public Transport have agreed to comply with the requirements of only 10 passengers per bus.
The directives from Joseph were that three passengers were allowed to occupy the backseat of minibuses, while two passengers would be allowed on the other rows of seats with a single passenger in the front.
“That would reduce the proximity in which people sit and would help us to enforce the social distancing that we require,” Joseph said.
He said minibus operations fell into the category of essential services which other front-line personnel such as nurses and police officers depended on. He asserted that it was of absolute importance for minibus drivers to comply with the requirements during their operations to reduce the possibility of spreading COVID-19 to other essential service providers as well as the general public. Joseph also indicated that minibus operators and passengers alike had not been complying with the new regulations.
On that note, he stressed, “I am repeating; if the police stops your bus and you have more than 10 passengers on the bus you will find yourself in a situation where, once you are reported, your route permit will be suspended and your bus may be impounded.”
He went on, “A number of persons are making great sacrifices to see that we have the level of control that is required so that we can mitigate against the full impact of a coronavirus outbreak in Saint Lucia. And the public transport sector plays a very critical role in this process. That is why it is very important for passengers and drivers alike to comply.”
In addition to the new rules for minibus operations is the enforcement of a national curfew from 11p.m. to 5pm for the furtherance of social distancing.
The Prime Minister advised, “The strategy here is to limit the amount of contact daily that we have with anyone. As part of this strategy the government has enforced a national curfew from 11p.m. to 5 a.m. Persons who violate this curfew will be arrested.”
Chastanet went on, “And if in fact you are arrested, we are not going to put you at Bordelais, we are going to put you into another facility in which everybody who is arrested that night will be together, and I cannot assure you that the people who are coming in are not exposed to coronavirus.”
Chastanet said the Minister of Health and the Minister of Foreign Affairs along with the Cuban Ambassador in Saint Lucia had facilitated over 100 Cuban doctors and nurses to come into Saint Lucia to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the airports on island are closed to all incoming commercial and residential flights, the Government of the Cayman Islands have offered Saint Lucia one of their planes to fly the Cuban doctors and nurses directly to Saint Lucia. The Prime Minister has extended his gratitude to the Government of the Cayman Islands for their generous gesture in this regard. The Cuban nurses and doctors are expected in Saint Lucia by the end of this week according to the Prime Minister.
He said the Cuban medical team will be working at the Owen King European Hospital (OKEU) and the Victoria Hospital. He indicated that they will also assist in getting the respiratory hospital up and running as soon as possible.
“Certainly that is a great reprieve for us as a government and I think also to the staff of the Ministry of Health and also to all of the nurses and doctors here in Saint Lucia, knowing that they are going to get the level of manpower coming in to help them,” the Prime Minister remarked.
He continued, “While that is in operation, I think it is going to go a long way in preparing us if in fact we have a community outbreak. What we need to try to do is to eliminate all possibilities of us getting a community outbreak.”
In the meantime. no charges will be imposed for driver’s licenses, vehicle licenses and route permits which expire during the 90 days immediately following March 1st since the department of transport will be closed. This does not apply to licenses which expired prior to 1st March.
On the matter of learner’s permits, the Minister of Transport advised, “We have suspended all theory and practical tests for driver’s licenses, but I want to assure the persons who would experience the expiration of their learner’s permit that they would not be required to pay for a new learner’s permit when we go back into normal operations.”
During Monday’s address, The Prime Minister touched on plans to meet with the Taxi Association, the Vendors’ Association and other community groups for an understanding of how COVID-19 and the actions being taken in response to it are going to impact them financially. He also spoke of cushion, as much as possible, the economic impact of COVID-19 for all Saint Lucians.
“I want to reiterate, our priority as a government is to deal with coronavirus first,” he said. “We cannot afford to both deal with an economic impact as well as a significant community outbreak here in Saint Lucia. But we are preparing ourselves for the worst-case scenario as best as we possibly can. We need the full participation of our citizenry to be able to overcome this crisis.”