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Health Ministry Monitors Omicron Variant, Urban Polyclinic on Site of Old Victoria Hospital

Health Minister Moses Jn Baptiste.
Health Minister Moses Jn Baptiste.

The Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the Omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, said to be the most transmissible COVID-19 subvariant detected thus far.

So said Health Minister Moses Jn Baptiste, who spoke to reporters before the commencement of parliament Tuesday. He noted that whilst there are no reported cases in Saint Lucia, emerging variants are still a major concern for officials at the Ministry.

Individuals should not let their guards down, the minister said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.

The XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant doesn’t appear to make people sicker, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported, but according to cnbc.com, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said global health officials are worried about how quickly the subvariant is spreading in the northeastern U.S.

The number of people infected with XBB.1.5 has been doubling in the U.S. about every two weeks making it the most common variant circulating in the country, the website reported.

“We cannot let our guards down,” Jn Baptiste said.

“We hear about new variants every week and this is just to point to us that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. In Saint Lucia, the rest of the Caribbean, and the world, we notice that serious illness is on the decline but we see what’s happening in China; we see a resurgence of infections,” he said, adding “we are fast tracking our plans to ensure that we have not only isolation centers but areas where we can house individuals if needs be. We are preparing but hoping that this does not reach the level of the Delta variant where we had so many infections and unfortunate deaths.”

The health minister also discussed the Ministry’s plans for the Respiratory Hospital. According to Jn Baptiste, plans are afoot for an urban polyclinic, an idea which was birthed years ago.

“We have plans for the Respiratory Hospital. We are going to go ahead with a decision (that) was made a very long time ago by the Cabinet of 2013 to have an urban polyclinic on the site of the Victoria Hospital as we knew it then. This urban polyclinic will house the Castries Wellness Center. Hopefully we can have services going up to midnight which will reduce pressure on the Millennium Heights Medical Complex; we have excess capacity there,” Jn Baptiste said.

Further, he added, “it is a plan we have finalized and consultations are ongoing with staff (at) Millennium Heights (and the) Respiratory Hospital. You will hear a lot more about that; we are in discussions with the Cabinet of Ministers and so forth so that is the plan.”

Whilst space is an issue at the island’s main hospital, the Owen King European Union Hospital, Jn Baptiste intimated that this just might change when the Ministry’s plan springs into motion.

According to him, “there is space at the respiratory hospital. We have some repairs (to do) and so on, but definitely we are moving ahead with this. The beds at Owen King EU Hospital cannot handle the demand and we require more space. Healthcare in Saint Lucia is very important to this government and I’m excited about the plans. You will hear a lot more in parliament; the St Jude Hospital Rehabilitation Project is part of this overall strategy to ensure that we improve healthcare in Saint Lucia.”

Concerning the latter, Jn Baptiste said government is moving at full speed, and whilst many individuals are eager for the hospital to reopen, government is making progress, he said.

“Right now, the officials are going over the finer details of the floor plans and so on. We are focusing on the peripheral issues to ensure that we secure the facility, getting materials for the fencing… organizing… so very soon we are hoping to get a finalized floor plan with all the details,” he said.

Jn Baptiste explained that “the floor plan is already there but the officials are reviewing it so the engineers and architects can put a definite date to completion. We are hoping that within the shortest possible time we can move from the stadium into the St Jude Hospital at Augier.”

Medical professionals from the United States will soon visit Saint Lucia, Jn Baptiste informed reporters. The public will benefit tremendously as a result, the minister said, adding that more details will be revealed at a later date.

“I just want to say that we are expecting the visit of the United States army hospital ship. It was here in 2019 and in March we’re expecting the visit of the medical professionals. The Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs is working along with the Ministry of External Affairs and we will announce the procedures and so on very soon,” the minister said, adding that “there will be a number of opportunities for minor surgeries (and) training in all sorts of areas. We’re doing both dental and other medical procedures and I’m sure the people of Saint Lucia will benefit from this as they did in 2019.”

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