With the total number of positive COVID-19 cases registered here since the pandemic was declared in March 2020 now well past 10,000 and related deaths at around 150, Saint Lucians are starting to get more serious in their attitudes towards vaccination.
Over 60,000 here have received at least a first jab, but many more citizens are also calling today than yesterday for “stronger”, “tougher” and “more serious” actions by the new administration. Not all say exactly how or what they’d like to see, but there’s no doubt that concern is rising nationally with every official press release updating the COVID figures.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported 127 cases out of a batch of 464 samples, taking the grand total of positive cases registered here (since March 2020) to 10,344.
Interestingly, more emphasis continues to be placed on the number of cases registered since the Pandemic was declared 18 months ago this week, than the actual number of Active or Recovered cases. Indeed, while there was much focus on the ten-thousand mark, the reality was also that just three days ago there were – in comparison to the ten thousand registered cases on paper – there were only 2,403 Active Cases across Saint Lucia.
The official releases continue to divide the number of deaths, but altogether – between COVID and related deaths — there were seven reported on Thursday, with the total combined number at 148.
Similarly, the reports continue to separate the number of vaccinated persons according to brand and number of jabs, together adding-up to 60,302 having received the first and second Oxford AstraZeneca jabs and 7,215 having received one or both doses of Pfizer.
But in the end, it also means that together, 67,517 persons have had one or two vaccinations – or just under one-third of the population, but only 15% of those qualifying to vaccinate, excluding children under 12.
However, seven weeks after the July 26 General Elections and one month after the first meeting of the new parliament and appointment of the current Cabinet, the COVID numbers continue to bewilder the average John and Joan Lucian, as the inherited Delta effect continues to spread, under the new government’s watch, at a faster rate than before it took office.
The opposition United Workers Party (UWP) has maintained that the new SLP administration is “too slow” and “too soft” in its approach, former Tourism Minister and Ex-Head of the National COVID Command Center, Dominic Fedee, this week inviting the government to invite the UWP to participate in a bipartisan approach to the COVID fight.
The SLP and the government have not formally responded to Fedee’s call, which follows an earlier one by fellow Senator Phera Polius, also backed by Choiseul-Saltibus MP Bradley Felix.
At a UWP press conference on Wednesday (also attended by Fedee, Polius and Felix), the Choiseul MP also noted that those who cheer or celebrate the toll COVID-19 was having on all of Saint Lucia “should have their heads examined…”
Never mind the negative criticism from mainly political quarters about Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre’s pledge to always ‘Follow the Science’ and ‘The Numbers’, the administration has indeed toughened some COVID prevention measures by taking some strong and unpopular measures, especially extension of curfew hours and introduction of 36-hour weekend lockdowns from Saturdays to Monday mornings.
The two Sunday lockdowns to date have been unpopular in many quarters, with complaints by workers about “not having enough time to shop” and security officers complaining about “having to walk home during curfew hours, after work…”
There were some 143 violations on the first lockdown Sunday and others were also reported last week, also leading to public complaints about Saint Lucians not being serious enough about obeying the protocols.
Those testing positive, being hospitalized and losing their lives continue to be mainly unvaccinated persons by far and the ages of those dying continue to be spread across all adult groups being tested, with older unvaccinated persons with preconditions (like surgery to remove limbs) most at risk.
The arrival of the Pfizer vaccine resulted in more people taking the new jab — and Chief Medical Officer Dr Sharon Belmar George led the way by vaccinating her two children with the Pfizer brand, which is also available to 12-year-olds.
But never mind the increased vaccinations, the increasing number of positive cases every week continue to keep the national average in the region of 15% — a very far cry from the 70% Herd Immunity level being pursued by the Health Ministry since last year.
On the same day of the violent attack against Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves by an anti-vaccination protester, the new Saint Lucia government — meeting in parliament for the first time since elections and with Antigua’s Prime Minister and CARICOM Chairman Gaston Brown present — sought to give early assurance it has no plans to mandate vaccination, promising instead to use encouragement, persuasion and even incentivization.
But given the growing rate of infections and number of deaths here since those assurances just over a month ago, many are openly suggesting and recommending the government might want to revisit that promise.
President of the Saint Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) Dr Merle Clarke, last week openly advocated “mandatory vaccination of frontline health workers”, supported by many peers approached by the press for responses or through views shared on talk shows.
But there’s also evidence that more people are supporting the call for not just stronger restrictive protocols and longer curfew hours, but also mandating vaccinations in the Public Service, across the Public and Private Sectors – and even growing calls shutting the country down for a fortnight, “if that’s what it’ll take…”
This past week there was also evidence that more CARICOM governments are as determined as the Vincentian Prime Minister to mandate vaccination in the public service, some arguing for mandating the jab not only for frontline workers, but across the Public Service – as announced last week by the Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister; and there are also those, like in Grenada, that support private sector mandating vaccination to keep businesses open.
The VOICE has been tapping the public pulse and it remains one in which more people are expressing the view that the government should “do more”, including “making people take the vaccine, if that’s what it will take…” to ease nerves and reduce tensions and/or panic.
The government has promised to continue and expand contact testing and community tracing, which, by current trends, will expectedly result in added cases for an already rundown health system struggling with inadequate beds and a still-too-high level of positive cases and unvaccinated persons.
But while Government Ministers and Health Officials are evidently cautious about attracting possible negative public responses to ‘mandating’ or ‘requiring’ anyone to vaccinate, citizens here following news at home and abroad are hearing and seeing how more and more governments everywhere else are mandating or requiring vaccination. The latest example is Italy, which yesterday announced that as of next month (October) all of its 23 million private and public employees will have to show proof of vaccination to keep their jobs.
As such, while ordinary Saint Lucians aren’t using those term “mandating” either, they are increasingly calling on the government to “do what it will take” to bring the COVID numbers down and possibly reverse the trend.