My Unsolicited Two Cents

by Doctor James Fletcher

On Friday 13 March 2020 our lives changed forever in Saint Lucia. What we had all been anticipating with a great deal of dread happened – we received confirmation that Saint Lucia had its first case of COVID-19.

In that short instant when the Chief Medical Officer made the announcement at the press conference, we learned that this horror movie had decided to play out one of its scenes in our country. Everything must and will change in our country for the foreseeable future. So, here is my two cents (a coin that no longer exists in our money supply) worth of opinion on what we should do next.

The Prime Minister should invite the opposition parliamentarians to a meeting, immediately following this afternoon’s extraordinary meeting of the cabinet, to fully brief them on the steps the government will be taking to deal with this elevated level of threat to Saint Lucia. Then, in his address to the nation on Monday evening, the Prime Minister should be accompanied by the Leader of the Opposition, who should also be invited to deliver a short address with the Prime Minister.

The message delivered by the two leaders should be one calling on Saint Lucians to remain calm, to work together, to heed the advice of the medical professionals, to desist from spreading false information and to display the spirit of koudmen and community togetherness that in the past defined us as a people. From today we must be our brother’s and sister’s keepers, including keeping our brothers and sisters from getting sick from COVID-19.

The government should send a strong warning to the private sector to resist any temptation to engage in price gouging and it should indicate that henceforth, certain essential items will be put under price control to prevent exploitation of the consumers.

The government should also encourage the supermarkets to place a limit on the quantities of essential items that can be purchased by any one individual in order to prevent the unfortunate situation that is developing of people with financial means hoarding basic supplies like toilet paper, cereals and hand sanitizer.

The government should consider temporarily closing Saint Lucia’s borders to cruise ships and yachts. The cruise ship season is coming to the end of its peak period and right now, the safety of our citizens is of paramount importance. It is too difficult to monitor the movements of transient visitors who spend less than 8 hours on our island, but who come into contact with scores of Saint Lucians during their brief stay on the island.

I understand the massive economic impact of this decision; my family has made its living in the tourism industry and I know better than most the number of people who depend on the cruise sector for a living. However, right now, the health risk to our citizens is too great. At the very least, limit the ports through which yachts can be cleared for entry to one sea port.

Serious consideration should be given to prohibiting the entry of people at our airports from countries, particularly those in Europe (including the United Kingdom) where the disease is rapidly spreading. Whichever decision is taken with respect to our borders, the support services at our air and sea ports need to be dramatically strengthened, with every effort made to protect the health and safety of the public officers who work at our ports of entry.

These decisions will have serious economic consequences. Therefore, the Prime Minister should convene a task force of persons, inside and outside of the public service, to quantify the economic implications of the impact of COVID-19 and the consequential downturn in our economy.

Moreover, responding adequately to COVID-19 will drain our financial resources. This task force should provide the prime minister and his cabinet with the empirical evidence it will need to make a case to the international financial institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and the Caribbean Development Bank, for emergency financial support and for a moratorium on debt repayments for the next 12 months.

The magnitude of the task of managing our health services during this crisis will overwhelm the Chief Medical Officer. The government should establish a command center, populated with some of our experienced medical professionals (doctors and nurses) who will provide support to the CMO and will assist the government with both the immediate and longer term decision making that will be required to help us deal with this crisis.

The activation of a 311 Call Center to respond to queries on COVID-19 is a step in the right direction. This should be a bilingual hotline. The government must make all relevant information readily available to the public. This will help to minimize the speculation and the rumour spreading.

The OECS Commission should establish a high-level, confidential information clearing house among the ministries of health and the port authorities of the Member States of the OECS for the sharing of information on COVID-19, including the identity of persons who have been tested and confirmed to have COVID-19.

We should not have a repeat of the situation that we just had in Saint Lucia with Case 1, where the individual visited Grenada prior to coming to Saint Lucia, but the Grenadian authorities found out about the COVID-19 confirmation after the chief medical officer in Saint Lucia had informed the local press in Saint Lucia.

Given the frequent travel among our countries, confidential information on patients being tested and confirmed should be shared with the CMO and the Chief Immigration Officer in our sister countries in the OECS and CARICOM immediately we find out that the person in question visited other Caribbean countries prior to coming to Saint Lucia.

The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank should work with the banks in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union to agree on a period during which arrangements will be put in place to provide a cushion to persons who, because of the inevitable economic slowdown, will not be able to meet their loan repayments over the next 6 to 8 months. Banks cannot expect people who are no longer able to earn a living to be able to service their debts with the same regularity as before.

Our diplomatic allies Taiwan and Cuba should also be enlisted to help. Taiwan has done an exemplary job of containing COVID-19 and minimizing the number of deaths from the virus. We need to learn from what they did and solicit their help in strengthening our health and social protocols.

Similarly, the Government of Cuba has time and again demonstrated the capacity to deal with infectious diseases and to assist its allies in fighting the spread of diseases like Ebola and treating those who fall sick. We should ask our Cuban friends for help.

Finally, as I said earlier, our lives changed yesterday. Every single one of us is now vulnerable. Those of us, like me, with elderly parents or relatives, have to confront the fact that there is an over 15% chance that our loved one will die if they contract this disease. This disease, COVID-19, does not care which party you support, at which church you worship, where you live, how much money you make, or how dark or light skinned you are. It will victimize you if it gets into you or your family.

The only thing between us and the devastating impacts we have seen in Wuhan, China and Italy is how well we work together, how efficiently we use all of our resources, how decisive and consistent we are with our decision-making and how faithful we are to the advice that we have been given, particularly with respect to personal hygiene, social distancing and self-isolation.

I hope the government will put all political differences aside and make optimum use of all the human resources on our island to fight this disease. I also hope that the opposition and its supporters will set aside their problems with the administration and pledge to do all within their power to cooperate with the government.

This is not the time for one-upmanship, for scoring political points, for partisanship or for political bickering. Let us show that we are bigger than all that and when we can and need to, we can rise above the pettiness of partisan politics and work in the interest of all Saint Lucians. Let us put #SaintLuciaFirst.

28 COMMENTS

  1. He don’t even want to answer a “Journalist” question, do you think he will want to invite the opposition leader to say a few words?

  2. I like this from Dr Fletcher, except he forgot to add strategies for the education sector. How shall we deal with the closure of school and recovery afterwards? And also, what about propositions for continuing utility services in light of the possibility for delayed payments – we need sound suggestions for these too…

  3. This is a global pandemic, the operative word being global. Every corner of the world will be affected in one way or another, and as a country we prayed for two things, the first being that our system was strong enough to exclude anyone with the virus and secondly if that did not happen we avoided mass contact and hysteria. The problem is that the contagious period is there before the symptoms arise and that was not public knowledge until recently. As a result the screening has been difficult. The social media posts about people of colour being immune is not factual, this pandemic can affect everyone.
    Now is not the time to slander the PM or the government as a whole, now is the time to be vigilant, safe and prepared.
    St Lucia requires tourism to ensure a healthy economy, that in itself comes with challenges and risks. Everyday the PM examines and makes decisions based on these factors to ensure that St Lucians and tourista are safe and as a result he has already prohibited some cruise ships from docking – The PM has demonstrated that he is prepared to sacrifice profit for lives, realise that this shows how much he cares for this nation.
    Let’s just see what the next week or two bring. This may well be isolated and contained effectively.

  4. This is a global pandemic, the operative word being global. Every corner of the world will be affected in one way or another, and as a country we prayed for two things, the first being that our system was strong enough to exclude anyone with the virus and secondly if that did not happen we avoided mass contact and hysteria. The problem is that the contagious period is there before the symptoms arise and that was not public knowledge until recently. As a result the screening has been difficult. The social media posts about people of colour being immune is not factual, this pandemic can affect everyone.
    Now is not the time to slander the PM or the government as a whole, now is the time to be vigilant, safe and prepared.
    St Lucia requires tourism to ensure a healthy economy, that in itself comes with challenges and risks. Everyday the PM examines and makes decisions based on these factors to ensure that St Lucians and tourista are safe and as a result he has already prohibited some cruise ships from docking – The PM has demonstrated that he is prepared to sacrifice profit for lives, realise that this shows how much he cares for this nation.
    Let’s just see what the next week or two bring. This may well be isolated and contained effectively.

  5. Well said. We need to stop the fear and panic. Information is key. Follow the guidelines given by the medical professionals. Fear and panic will cause us to be distracted and make mistakes. Let’s stay focused and let’s love each other as ourselves. Protect others by protecting yourself.

  6. Well said and informative. St Lucia and it’s people have held a special place in my heart for many years. I pray that all countries will work together to contain the virus and let our people live in good health, peace and happiness. May God bless us all. Love and help one another and we will get thru this.

  7. look on the bright side. pollution has decreased in italy and china. planet has a short reprieve from the human footprint.

  8. When our medical staff get contaminated our police force fire service our utility workers.And we dont have replacements Will they still say to us dont worry? all the beds in all our hospitals are ocupied with a sick person,you only say you have 15 beds for Covis 19 .In Italy 15.000 people contaminated 1.500 deaths 80% of the deaths were men over 65 years the ladies survive better and the young dont get afected.We have thousands of elderly with some serious problems,I hope you are all thinking of this reality.There is no politics here.the riders of the Apocalipsys dont discriminate welth or colours.

  9. Up to this present date British Airways Flights have not been Cancelled .These White English Visitors Coming in with their Virus Deliberately .

  10. Jimmy now has a voice and advocating collaboration of govt and opposition
    ..wow.
    This approach was needed in climate change.
    Anything to be in the spotlight.
    The once one man show is promoting inclusion.

    • People like you are so bitter.. what have you done for climate change ? You just criticize from behind your screen while doing nothing

  11. A well articulated perspective, undoubtedly shared by many. I do believe, however, that a significant percentage of our population is inadvertently left out of the conversation. It appears that we are oblivious to the fact that Creole is the first choice of language and in some cases the only language of communication for many. It is therefore imperative that pertinent information relating to COVID-19 be communicated in Creole. This too, will reduce the opportunity for misinformation, misinterpretation and speculation. It is also my humble opinion that organizations such as The Employers Federation, Trade Unions and the Chamber of Commerce be part of the conversation. The inevitable impact on the private sector, particularly small businesses is worthy of discussion.

  12. Our turist industry has to suffer that means manny of us will be sent home.no work no money.We are at war and war means sacrifice and misery for the sake of the country and our living parents that we love dearly.Fletcher talks nice but his nice wasent to efective when he was driving the boat.

  13. I agree with alot of what Fletcher said but why should the Prime Minister issue a joint statement with the leader of the opposition?? Name me one country where this has happened. Nothing is stopping the opposition can make their own address to their supporters.

    • Sigh……. Seeing the Prime Minister and the Oppossite leader together addressing the nation would be a strong statement to our country. It would say that party politics are out the window for the response to COVID-19, slp and uwp supporters may stop bickering with each other. Just because its never been done(false) means we cant do it we need to be trailblazers not followers. Stop coming at this like “their supporters” and “our supporters” it should be ony st.lucians.Because Covid-19 doesn care if you’re slp or uwp it affects everybody

      • And why shouldn’t a statement coming from the Prime Minister (without the Opposition Leader) not equate to “a very strong statement to our country “?

        Please enlighten the rest of us.

        Further, what is stopping the Leader of the Opposition to issue a strong statement on his own to the nation. He’s entitled and expected to do so, irrespective of when the PM utters his statement. He, the Leader of the Opposition, should have already done so, in light of the fact that the PM seems a bit tardy in doing so, for such a critical situation. We’d have expected his action to galvanize the Government to act more quickly. The Leader of the Opposition is not doing his work.

        And by the way, the PM should only address the Leader of the Opposition out of courtesy; he doesn’t need advice from him, except political advice, perhaps. This is very unlikely! He, the PM, and likewise all politicians, must rely on sound advice from technocrats and technical people, namely doctors, nurses, scientists, technologists etc to solve such problems. Few politicians fall into those categories in St. Lucia, although they believe that they know better than the technocrats and technical people.

  14. please do not listen to any idea for joint statement. one government is in charge not two. fletcher just trying to play both sides while trying to make a contribution. in a case like that, the government take the good part of the proposal and throw out the rest. tricky labourite.

    • Still playing politics during a time like this? I hope for your sake the virus only attacks “labourites” and not “flambeaus” like yourself …….smh

  15. It never fails to amaze me of the St.Lucian political conundrum, why should at a time such as this
    that there should be opposition – opposition for ‘What’ may I ask? why can’t we all speak with one
    voice in unity in addressing the dire situation at hand – no, The present day leader says something
    but some would rather hear an opposing view to satisfy the cravings of a political group, for points.
    Let me tell you – that which we are experiencing was not entirely man made – there is an invisible
    power at work speaking to us in a way to catch our attention. We have forgotten what our purpose
    on this little blue planet is, “Heal the sick, feed the poor, help the needy, love your enemy not hate.”
    and many more, but ‘Wall Street’ is our second home, Billionaires spending multimillions to show he
    can, war games in the middle East, The slippery slope toward WW3 is around the corner can you
    hear the rushing of the Apocalypse horses? hope you have ears to hear and eyes to see it’s time
    to look up my Lucian friends, not horizontally. You were put here for a purpose, not for local politics.

  16. Keep playing your petty partisan politics if can’t see why a joint public address from the two political leaders would send a stronger message to the nation than a standard prime minister address. Because you’re too far gone to be saved

  17. I guess Mr. Fletcher suggestions were taken glad to see the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition together gave the populace the much needed info. For all those that were so against it your own political leader saw it fit for it to happen. There is a time and place for politics leave it for next year hopefully by then this will be over. For now there are no labour or flambeau only lucian

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