As the Mia Mottley administration continues to resist public pressure to once more shut down Barbados’ borders to visitors amid a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases and the declaration of community spread, the region’s primary public health agency said today that earlier measures for the safe return to travel into the region were inadequate.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Dr Joy St John said people across the region had been lulled into a false sense of security.
While not pointing fingers at any particular territory, Dr St John said several countries had let their guard down, particularly with regard to the tourism sector.
The former Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in Barbados questioned whether the measures in that sector were maintained throughout while governments sought to balance lives with livelihoods.
“How do you balance lives with livelihoods? Tourism is our business in this region. And so, within the tourism sector – and the tourism sector is not just hotels; it’s the service industries, the bars, the restaurants, the pleasure activities involving the sea – are those measures in place all the time? COVID just needs a chink in your armour and it’s in,” she stated.
“So, not necessarily have the measures for a safe return to tourism been applied. I think people were lulled into a false sense of security because earlier in the year 2020, year people would have done things and gotten away with them. And so, some of the measures for a safe return to tourism were not properly applied,” the head of the Trinidad-based regional public health laboratory declared.
Dr St John also expressed concern that the surge now being experienced in the region may have had its genesis from the Christmas season when people went partying and failed to seriously consider physical distancing.
She also pointed out that some countries paid more attention to the visitors arriving and neglected to heed what was happening among the locals.
“COVID on its own is very sneaky and most of the countries have been concentrating on travellers. So they have been concentrating on what is happening at the borders and not so much about what is happening within the country. So we may have had a situation – and there was time enough for this to happen across the Caribbean region – in that COVID may have come in quietly; and because most of the cases are asymptomatic or so mild you hardly ever noticed them, the number of cases built up on their own.”
“And then the variant would have been superimposed on what is being seen as a surge and the rapidity of spread. So it could be a combination of things just building up and then the variant would give it a kick,” declared the executive director of CARPHA.
However, she admitted that some attention has been paid to a balance in managing the pandemic.
Dr St John identified three areas to be considered and acted upon for the battle against the spread to be effective.
She said people need to know what is happening in their countries and apply the measures accordingly. The public health executive explained that while the wearing of face masks, hand sanitization and physical distancing are some of the measures required, too many people in the region are disregarding them.
The senior medical official also pointed to a need for adequate testing, the availability of enough hospital beds, ventilators and trained medical and health care personnel as other things which must be in place.
Dr St John said the issue of addressing the balance between lives and livelihoods is also of paramount importance in tackling the spread of the virus.
She described as exemplary, the way in which several sectors have protocols in place and the policing of them.
“But COVID is a very crafty enemy…very crafty…and you only need to slip up once or twice. So from that perspective, [with] those three ways of looking at things…we have not quite a failing grade, but not excellent,” Dr St John told Barbados TODAY.
Barbados now has ten deaths, 14 new positive cases and a total of 742 active ones. The total number of confirmed cases which has been recorded since the first two in mid-March last year stand at 1,401 up to Sunday.