‘WE can coexist with COVID, but we must not let it define us. Instead, we must define it!’
That was the main message from Prime Minister Allen Chastanet Thursday night, as he sought to allay growing national anxiety and fear over reports earlier that day of 41 new positive cases, taking the national total, prior to press time yesterday, to 543, with 216 Active cases, 321 fully recovered and six COVID-related deaths.
This week was particularly shocking as the island recorded 121new COVID-19 cases in six days (January 9 – January 14) and news surfaced of a hotel/s with several cases of the virus.
Shocking too, is the latest COVID-19 related death, a male British visitor who entered the island on December 30 testing negative, according to officials, but who died at his hotel within ten days, his post mortem registering a positive COVID result.
While several questions remained unanswered regarding this death, the Department of Health and Wellness Thursday confirmed that it instituted “additional stringent and immediate measures to halt the situation,” at a hotel, adding that it is “conducting extensive contact tracing and testing of guests and employees.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George said that decisions taken concerning that particularly hotel, which she did not name, include the restriction of new guests at the property effective January 14, 2021 and current guests remaining only on property. Further, employees needing to be quarantined or put in isolation will be facilitated at the property to reduce community transmission.
“The Department of Health and Wellness and the Ministry of Tourism take this matter extremely seriously and have met with the management of the property to identify and correct breaches, remedy the situation and increase surveillance to ensure compliance to the existing and new protocols,” the CMO said.
She noted that the management of the property had reiterated its commitment and pledged its co-operation to safeguard the health and safety of guests, staff and the general public.
“The Department of Health and Wellness is calling on the entire tourism sector and all other establishments to abide by the protocols to safeguard lives and livelihoods,” Belmar-George said.
Much of Thursday night’s update by the police, PM Chastanet and the Ministry of Health surrounded the increased number of confirmed cases in the tourism sector, with the emphasis on the discovery of some 60 news cases at an unnamed hotel in the north of the island, including four visitors and over 50 local workers concerned, causing anxiety about community spread beyond the hotel’s gates.
The update also followed widespread reports that another unnamed hotel – also in the extreme north of the island – had issued a circular to staff dated January 11, in which it named another hotel and a non-hotel business with numerous employees – all three within close geographic proximity – as having staff among persons in the batch of 43 reported to the hotels by the Health Ministry last weekend.
Citing adherence to Health Ministry protocols and guidelines for hotels, the complaining hotel’s January 11 circular to staff, widely circulated on social media, indicated Management was “asking our Team Members who are family members, or Team Members who have personal relations with employees of the aforementioned businesses, to please declare themselves…” to the Human Resources Department.
Neither of the two hotels, nor the private business complained of by one of the two, were named during Thursday night’s update.
However, while acknowledging and sharing the concern about the increasing COVID numbers nationally, among visitors and affecting staff at the hotels concerned, the Prime Minister, CMO Belmar- George, Permanent Secretary in the Tourism Ministry Donnalyn Vittet and Deputy Police Commissioner Milton Desir all confirmed as well, that the latest rapid rise in positive cases was also an expected outcome of excessive violations of COVID protocols here over the Christmas and New year holiday period.
The officials confirmed too that the high risk in the tourism industry is because of violation of protocols by visitors at properties and general lapses in other tourism sub-sectors in respect of application of the prevention and control protocols.