Asserting that the COVID-19 crisis is worse that the worst hurricane and 911, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has said that Saint Lucia must anticipate and prepare for the worst.
While noting that Saint Lucia has two confirmed cases of the disease, both of them ‘imported’, the PM said this country has to be concerned about a spread of the virus locally.
He was addressing a meeting of the National Emergency Management Advisory Committee (NEMAC) on Monday at the Financial Administrative Centre, Pointe Seraphine, at which a number of measures to reduce the spread of the virus and deal with other cases were announced.
He noted that the Chief Medical Officer and her team have been very cognizant of the problems that exist locally, including small households with a lot of people, so that should one individual have symptoms the ability to sufficiently isolate in that home would be impossible.
According to Chastanet, the state must provide facilities where people who have symptoms and have tested positive can go somewhere for the two-week period to ensure that the virus is not spread.
He disclosed that the authorities are in the process of working with the hotel sector to get one or two hotels to be used as holding bays for people who have Coronavirus.
“I think they are also in the process of looking at some schools as well,” Chastanet explained.
He said the country is also in the process of moving into the Owen King EU Hospital.
“We have no choice but to push up the timetable in moving into OKEU, with the idea of using Victoria Hospital as a respiratory hospital, meaning that the cases that need hospitalization, that would take place at Victoria,” the PM told his audience.
“There is no politics in this – we all need to come together,” Chastanet asserted.
He promised that the opposition will be fully involved in the decision-making process and urged the rest of the country to take a cue from that and work together.
He thanked opposition leader Philip J. Pierre for being at the NEMAC meeting.
According to Chastanet, the coronavirus crisis will have an economic impact on Saint Lucia,
He explained that it has been a difficult situation to manage.
“My government has been confronted with two risks – the risk of health and safety for the country which I have to say to you is very, very important to us, as well as the economic risk of fallout,” Chastanet told the meeting.
He disclosed that 13,500 Saint Lucians are employed directly in hotels and restaurants.
According to the PM, the likelihood is if the shutdowns that are occurring globally continue, the hospitality sector will be very hard hit.
He observed that policies of closing down borders have a direct impact on the sector.
“I think the sometimes people – and I know they don’t mean it, are not understanding the dependence that we have on that industry. I can say to you that if we don’t have tourists travelling into Saint Lucia, the ability for us to maintain, or even have the number of flights coming into our country, is impossible,” he declared.
“I see people using two things in one sentence which explains the contradiction – that I want you to shut down the country, but ‘I want you to make sure that Saint Lucians can come home,’ in the same sentence. Those are conflicting,” the PM declared.
He said there is still need for Saint Lucia to be able to interact with the rest of the world.
On the matter of health care, Chastanet explained that Saint Lucia is not self-sufficient in that regard.
“There are occasions – more than we would like to admit, in which Saint Lucians have to travel abroad to be able to get critical care,” he noted.
Chastanet asserted that Martinique plays an important role in providing that service.
He disclosed that while Saint Lucia has taken the step that anyone who comes from mainland France will be quarantined for two weeks here, authorities here have held back from applying that measure to Martinique.
Chastanet said Saint Lucia and Dominica in particular are developing a protocol with Martinique and Guadeloupe as to how to manage interaction.
“We cannot shut down entirely for Martinique. We still have to leave it open – that if in fact we have critical cases despite the health crisis taking place in Martinique, we have to leave that window of opportunity available,” he told his audience.
Chastanet said stopping private boats from coming across the channel is the first step.
“We will be shutting down Rodney Bay and also shutting down Soufriere and we’ll be allowing Martiniquans and Saint Lucians to traverse back and forth between Martinique and Saint Lucia by either flying or using the fast ferry,” he stated.
“What this does is that it allows us to take very limited resources – because the Marine Police have had to now man and guard a very wide space, to narrow where the traffic is going to come in, but more importantly we have a very active black market or unofficial market between Martinique and Saint Lucia and sometimes they believe, and probably rightfully so, that they are above the law,” the PM said.
However he expressed the view that by restricting or eliminating small boats, any small boat seen in the channel “we know who they are.”
Chastanet said this will make it easier for the Marine Police and police in general to protect Saint Lucia’s borders.