By Earl Bousquet
The Caribbean opened 2021 with one year’s experience fighting COVID-19 in 2020 — and every assurance the fight against the latest Corona Virus strains is already at the next-most-feared level.
Following earlier confirmation in Jamaica, Saint Lucia also confirmed on January 25 that the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) had confirmed five cases of the ‘British variant’ of SARS-CoV-2 had been ‘diagnosed in country.’
According to the official press release: ‘Two of the cases are British nationals who were diagnosed on December 17th and December 23rd, 2020.
‘The other three cases are St. Lucian nationals from the Dennery, Micoud and Babonneau districts and they were also diagnosed in December 2020.
‘All five cases have since made a full recovery from the COVID-19 virus.’
Citing increasing numbers of positive cases and hospitals running out of beds in more countries in Central and South America Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Executive Director Clarissa Etienne had two days earlier urged added precautions and tightened adherence to Social Distancing and other prevention protocols, ‘especially in the coming weeks.’
But the Caribbean’s COVID landscape continues to change for every reason other than good across the region:
Antigua & Barbuda is balancing tourism with national health needs; Barbados is battling a spike from violation of protocols over the holiday season and Dominica is coping after Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit threatened to make wearing masks mandatory.
Grenada opened 2021 registering a larger comparable percentage of ‘imported’ positive COVID cases that its nearest neighbors; Guyana is paying US $1,000 COVID relief to workers rendered unemployed by the pandemic; and Haiti is as affected as all.
Jamaica is predicting a return to growth in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, while St Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago are basically out of the regional COVID headlines.
But the arrival of the ‘British variant’ of the latest COVID virus in heavily tourism-dependent Saint Lucia is an early wake-up call for the entire region to get its fightback plan in place early enough to make a positive difference during 2021.
Governments need to overcome initial fears now made redundant by costly results – like hesitance about nationwide testing and easing entry protocols to allow for maximum tourism earnings.
The viruses today – old and new – can be more deadly than costly.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) must therefore switch gear and upgrade its response strategy, learning from the experiences from early application of vaccines everywhere else.
But first of all, there’s a strong need for CARICOM governments to be proactive and invest in provision of increasingly necessary infrastructure to address the inescapable needs already being created: for more beds and spaces for treatment of victims, including official homes for quarantined persons.
The region’s immediate ongoing combined task, therefore, is to continue trying to stem the COVID tide, enforce protection and prevention protocols, ensure national testing and increase vaccination capacity ahead of the arrival of vaccines.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of St Lucia Times.