Letters & Opinion

Medical Experts Agree With Chastanet’s COVID-19 Strategy

By Sianna St. Croix

The past year has been a nightmare. News headlines are a daily reminder of the millions who have died as a result of a virus that remains even to experts, a mystery. A story that’s less told however, is the millions of poor who have been left even more destitute thanks to the virus; and that of the 100s of millions of lives taken; not by the virus itself nor its comorbidities; but by the near immeasurable economic collapse that has occurred as a result. Unsurprisingly, this reality has not quite sunk into the heads of our out of touch politicians; as evidenced in February’s House Sittings.

Vieux Fort North MP, Moses Jn. Baptiste, who’s not a doctor, nor any sort of medical expert, diagnosed in the House that “The real pre-existing condition which was known to the government was the open borders, the open airports to the United Kingdom and the U.S. at a time when we knew, when the government knew Mr. Speaker, that there was a deadly U.K. variant and the U.S., had the deadliest wave of COVID-19. That was the real pre-existing condition.”

Without citing even one credible expert Jn. Baptiste asserted that “even while doctors, the opposition and other professionals were calling for actions based on the science, they [the government] were busy making hasty arrangements to open hotels, putting the whole country at risk.”

Contradicting himself at the same House Sitting, Jn. Baptiste attempted to devour the cake he’d just eaten: “And we have never said to close the country and leave everybody hungry and leave everybody without money. That is not what we have said.  We have followed the science and the advice that the doctors and the medical people are giving: that if you are going to deal with this COVID-19 crisis, the 300 now 400 something million dollars, close to half a billion dollars that you have borrowed, use it to stabilize the country, use it to assist people and at the same time deal with the medical issues, close your borders for a short while and deal with the issues. That is what we have said consistently. So don’t make it look as if we want people to lose their jobs. Don’t make it look like that.”

Except no one’s making it look like that. The reality is, the borders’ closure means people will lose their jobs and with them their means to earn a living. This is why experts from international organisations like the W.H.O. have for months advocated the opening of borders to allow for the economic recovery of countries like Saint Lucia. The government has simply followed this informed, scientific advice.

A fact acknowledged at that very House Sitting by Jn. Baptiste’s colleague Ernest Hilaire: “I am very cognizant of the fact that there are templates from the WHO; there are templates from PAHO. There are templates from CARPHA; our medical professionals do have templates and guidance that are offered to assist in designing national responses. So we know they [the government] are not shooting in the dark. There are international medical experts that analyse data; who are studying evidence from testing and trials, and they are issuing guidance to governments. But the final design of national response programmes always rely on the national authorities.”

100% agreed. Fortunately, Saint Lucia’s government has been following guidelines laid out by international organisations like the W.H.O. and the United Nations by opening our borders and keeping them open.

Back in December, the head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, declared: “Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse — 270 million people are marching toward starvation,”

“Failure to address their needs will cause a hunger pandemic which will dwarf the impact of COVID. [Author’s emphasis] And if that’s not bad enough, out of that 270 million, 30 million depend on us 100% for their survival,”

All the way back in April; Beasley made the same point about COVID’s devastating economic impact. “While dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic,”

“There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself.”

In October, W.H.O. official Dr. David Nabarro told the Spectator’s Andrew Neil that “We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” “The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

Most noteworthy is Nabarro’s choice of region and industry to crystallise his point. “Just look at what’s happened to the tourism industry in the Caribbean, for example, or in the Pacific because people aren’t taking their holidays,” he said. “Look what’s happened to smallholder farmers all over the world. … Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”

The two cited international experts were hardly alone in this opinion. In October, 6000 scientists signed the Great Barrington Declaration; a petition calling for the end of coronavirus lockdowns and co-authored by Harvard professor of medicine Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Oxford professor Dr. Sunetra Gupta, and Stanford Medical School professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.

In it the 6000 scientists declared: “Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health.”

The petition continues: “Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.”

“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk,” “We call this Focused Protection.”

“Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,”

So it is not “callous and uncaring” for Saint Lucia’s or any other country’s government, to open their borders, even during this crisis. In fact, thousands of scientists have signed their names to the contrary; while stressing that opening borders and rebuilding our economies, is the “most compassionate approach” governments can take at this time.

At the aforementioned House Sitting, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet gave us a dose of our COVID-19 economic reality: “In April of 2019 we earned over $100 million in tax revenues. April of 2020 it went down to $40 million. The businesses were shut down and as a result of those businesses being shut down Mr. Speaker, they had no earnings.”

“We adopted the policy from April of coexisting with COVID.” Chastanet continued. “Because when the country was shut down Mr. Speaker and we saw the economic impact not only on the government but on businesses and individuals in this country Mr. Speaker, we knew shutting down the country was not an option.”

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