WHILE legislators here agree that a cohesive approach is needed to combat the Covid-19 virus, there are still some debilitating factors to be addressed as the country steps up its fight.
According to latest reports, the pandemic has claimed close to 3.3 million lives worldwide—amidst a ‘devastating outbreak’ in India, recently.
Though Britain has recorded the highest death toll in Europe, however its successful vaccination programme has allowed the authorities to start relaxing curbs. Several other European countries have followed suit and have begun easing restrictions.
Saint Lucia’s Tourism and Information Minister Dominic Fedee, at the last house sitting , presented an update of the government’s policies and implementation programmes geared to combatting the virus.
“No doubt across the country …there is a lot of Covid fatigue. The stipulations, the regulations and the different protocols that we’ve had to put in place requires a certain level of sacrifice from our population,” said Fedee.
He added that it required considerable effort on the part of citizens to care for families and children “and to have given so much of ourselves” over the past year.
Fedee noted that whenever countries do the right thing and make responsible decisions, those countries have succeeded. He said it has been no different locally, to what obtains in the regional and global situation.
The Head of the Command Centre reported that small businesses including bus drivers, vendors and others are still struggling to earn an income and are finding it “very difficult to survive …and even event planners have not worked in any great degree as their sector is completely shut down because of the restrictions and the need to manage this virus.”
Fedee said the car rental sector was also impacted in getting sales and having to lay off staff.
“These are the real issues that are affecting the demographics of people in our community,” he declared. Fedee said tour guides and other persons from the hospitality sector were also feeling the ‘pinch’ from the economic downturn resulting from covid-19.
He assured that government is committed to getting these workers back on the job.
“Economists suggest that this economic drought is the worst that they have seen, since the great depression of the 1930s,” Fedee asserted.
Chiding the opposition for its objection to the SOE extension, he said, this was not the time for “reckless behavior.” Interest, he said, should be directed towards restoring the welfare of the people.
Fedee referred to several infrastructural projects the government has undertaken inclusive of upgrading health facilities and water stabilization projects.
The Anse La Raye / Canaries MP said though small businesses are reopening, they are doing so not at the pace that government would have wanted, but “St Lucia is indeed heading in the right direction, despite perilous times.”
He said schools have been reopened and students are again receiving ‘face-to –face’ lessons.
Fedee stated the authorities has made ‘tremendous strides in keeping the Covid-19 cases down …and the protocols are working.”
Reports emanating from the Command Center indicate that the curfew implemented over the Easter holiday period did work in helping to keep the numbers down.
“The biggest issue with Covid is people moving about and interacting with each other,” Fedee continued. “The more people move about and the more people interact is the more you will have a spread of covid-19.”
He said, “All we are trying to do is not to take away freedoms …we are not trying to make it difficult for people. We are trying to keep the people of St Lucia safe from this deadly pandemic and the only way we can do that is to try our best …to temper for now and curtail our enthusiasm and love for each other, to just stay away for a little bit to ensure that things are in control and to make sure that St Lucia gets away from this thing.”
Fedee noted that the real issue is about managing the health crisis and “reopening of our economy, strategically.”
Stressing that government was making progress with the Covid- management plans, he said, the level of cases, new cases and active cases have gone down , and as well , “the level of hospitalization have come down significantly.”
Unfortunately, said the minister, at least 75 persons have died “but what the science is saying and the numbers show …is that most of the comorbidities that we’ve had are diabetes and hypertensive patients.”
Fedee said at this stage stringent precautionary measures need to be employed since frontline workers too, are being affected with the virus. And so, he added, “we have to secure the country, secure the health system, secure the police and the enforcement system so that we can have the best capacity to be able to manage this pandemic.”
To date, about 128 front-liners have been affected with the virus, including nurses and doctors, other health workers and also pharmacists and health personnel.
He informed that 15 cases of the British variant has been detected on island and there has not been any spread.
Former prime minister and MP for Vieux Fort South, Dr. Kenny Anthony noted that it was an opportune time for opposing legislators to cement their differences, in the interest of the populace, and to conduct dialogue aimed at devising a mutual solution to managing the crisis.
Globally, rapid vaccination programmes have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps towards normality, but the virus is still surging in many countries and concerns are growing about global vaccine inequality.
Dr. Anthony, who served as head of government from 1997 to 2006 and again from 2011 to 2016, said it was important to persuade the people of St. Lucia that it is in their best interest to take the vaccine.
However, he warned, the retaliatory conduct of the island’s security officers cannot be enforced on the citizenry.
“You can’t come to Parliament and tell people that the only reason you are going to extend a state of emergency is to get the police to look for them and send them home, enforce a curfew,” declared Dr.Anthony .
He added: “We have put the public in opposition to the police, and people are angry. It is not necessary and we have to discuss the fears openly and frankly with the people of St. Lucia on these matters.”
Citing the build up to the impending general elections, Dr. Anthony said, general elections do not belong to either the government or the opposition parties, but indeed the general public.
He noted, “And really what should have been happening particularly in this Covid period, even in the light of this so–called extension that both political parties should have been able to sit together under the guidance of independent persons and agree on the ground rules for the campaign that has to emerge in this period.”
The SLP legislator contended that “a different approach could have been taken by a more sensitive recognition of the parameters of the Constitution of our country.”
MP for Choiseul/ Saltibus, Bradley Felix said while he recognizes that the Covid-19 virus “has stifled our socialization”, he nonetheless implored persons to pay attention to the importance of getting vaccinated.
“We can get there if we all get vaccinated,” he said, adding that it was a collective responsibility for legislators to help steer people in the right direction to combat the virus.
Said Felix: “The issue of collective responsibility is a serious one.”
He stressed that it was as much the responsibility of the government as the opposition “to encourage St Lucians to follow the protocols and let us do what is necessary for us to get out of this quagmire called Covid, for us to get on with our lives.”