PRIME Minister Allen Chastanet is relying on the goodwill of Saint Lucians to curb the spread of the coronavirus that to date has affected 259 persons, killed two and created economic hardship for citizens and country.
Whether this novel approach, coupled with modified COVID-19 measures that came into effect yesterday, will do the job envisioned by the Prime Minister is anyone’s guess. However, the plea made by Chastanet for Saint Lucians to help the vulnerable in their midst comes at a time when the country keeps registering positive cases at an alarming rate, a spike that began in October.
“I keep saying there are individuals who are struggling, who cannot make ends meet, who aren’t getting sufficient food, who are psychologically under pressure, please help them, Chastanet said at a press conference last Friday.
The situation facing Saint Lucia, economically and health-wise, is serious. Last Saturday the Ministry of Health confirmed six new cases of COVID-19, two being non-nationals visiting Saint Lucia. Diagnosed cases in country at that time stood at 252. However this soon changed when on Sunday the Ministry recorded five more cases pushing the total to 257, a four-year-old being part of that number, with the districts of Gros Islet and Castries registering most of the positive cases. Two more cases were registered yesterday, bringing the total to 259 with 126 currently active in country.
“Our current epidemiological curve shows a general upward trend, still, from what we are seeing, we have not yet peaked. We still notice an increase although the rate of increase has reduced,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George.
She underscored the seriousness of the situation by stating that in the beginning of the outbreak Saint Lucia’s transmission rate was below zero “but as we progressed into October and November we noted increases in our transmission rate moving from 1.9 to 3.9 to 3.5.” The country recorded a transmission rate of three in the last two weeks of November.
She still sounded a warning saying that a transmission rate of three means that Saint Lucians are still in a very critical position, one where they cannot yet relax the measures that are in place to protect them.
“There is a potential within the next 14 days of noting over 1000 cases if we relax the measures,” the CMO said.
“So from our forecasting we predict that if we do not continue, if we don’t adhere to the protocols if we don’t hold back, if we don’t break the transmission rate there is a possibility of more cases,” she said.
However, in all the gloom and doom caused by COVID-19, there is a spark of hope as the country moves ahead in its efforts at beating the virus.
For instance, there is a reduction in the number of quarantine rooms in the country.
“We had some 500 rooms, about 5-6 hotels (all part of the quarantine effort) now we’re down to 153 rooms that we’re using in various hotel facilities for quarantine as the demand for quarantine space has actually declined,” noted Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee.
“As you can imagine when we were repatriating cruise ship passengers, and repatriating individuals, returning nationals who are stuck abroad, the demand was actually much higher. As we go to Christmas we see that there’s an uptick in the number of applications from returning nationals wishing to return home for Christmas and we are making sure that we build the capacity and we prepare ourselves to ensure that we have adequate quarantine space and as well to have a very good strategy to blend with home quarantine,” he added.
Government has introduced a tracking system for persons quarantined at home. According to Fedee, government is very advanced with these tracking devices.
“My information is that in two weeks we should have the process completed. We’ve done several trials in house so that is making significant headway,” he said.
Another spark of hope is the tourism industry which has re-opened putting the authorities in the somewhat difficult position of achieving the correct equilibrium between safety of citizens and optimizing commercial activity to rebuild the economy.
Fedee said 80% of hotel rooms have been approved by the Ministry of Health and by the tourism ministry, which include 58 villas which are indigenously owned.
“We have approved some 500 taxi operators but over 300 are operating. They are mainly southern taxis and the taxi pegs from various hotels in the north and south and in Soufriere. What we want to do is to expand this now to also include the people that are applying their trade on the internet to allow them to be able to participate. A lot of them have expressed to us that they have loans and they have very challenging economic circumstances and we would like to do everything possible to get them to participate as soon as we can,” Fedee said.
Regarding airlifts, he said that as the UK re-opens carriers from there have set dates to return to Saint Lucia.
“So, December 3, we have Thompson Airline from Gatwick airport, December 5 we have the same airline from Manchester, a flight that did not exist pre-COVID. We also have, December 10, British Airways from Gatwick then go to a daily service on December 12, which is very significant,” Fedee said.
He added, “We also have British Airways on the 27 December and also the third of January. They have added extra flights because of the significant demand that we’re seeing from the UK market. This is largely driven by our strategic marketing approach. We have actually put a lot of money into driving demand for Saint Lucia as we suspect that the British public, having been through a lot of the lockdowns and restrictions from COVID-19, may be somewhat weary of the COVID protocols of that country and may want to go somewhere for a vacation. And so we were correct in our analysis and we’re seeing significant demand from the UK market for Saint Lucia.”
Fedee believes that with more flights and more visitors, hotel employees will have more consistent hours of work which perhaps would end the rotation scenario that exists in some of these hotels.
However, more visitors entering the country would mean more planning by health authorities here as they would need to beef up facilities at the airports, medical facilities, etc., so as to have a very seamless processing of individuals that are coming from COVID-19 high risk areas.