The opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) declared Thursday that the Allen Chastanet administration’s claim off sterling management is unravelling amid community spread of COVID-19 and the exhaustion of funds from the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) for income support.
“To distract from this unraveling they are, without identifying the criteria, proclaiming the CMO the best ever, and are supposedly standing with her, when in fact they are trying to hide behind and use her as a human shield,” according to a post on the SLP’s official Facebook page.
The message urged people to vote for the SLP.
The post, under the caption ‘The Unraveling’ is reproduced below:
When Philip J. Pierre (PJP) said that the country was the least prepared for COVID-19, some were highly critical. To justify their criticism they sought to create a wedge between the statements of PJP and that of Hon Shawn Edwards. Now that the fog has receded it’s important that we re-examine the issue and hopefully learn some important lessons.
In March 2020, a meeting of NEMO/NEMAC was convened to discuss national plans and preparations for COVID-19. Hon Edwards represented the opposition at the meeting. The meeting received an outline of procedures that were to be followed should there be an outbreak of the virus in Saint Lucia. The CMO and staff from the MOH outlined their roles and the basis of their authority to act, should there be an outbreak.
The meeting also heard that various options were under consideration to quarantine and isolate suspected and infected persons. Though the health authorities identified the processes that were to be followed once persons were placed in quarantine or isolation, they didn’t identify, cause they couldn’t, the places for quarantine and isolation.
At the meeting, Hon Edward justifiably praised the health staff for their thoroughness and clarity in their presentations of how the virus would be handled. PJP went beyond Hon Edwards to assess the readiness of the country to respond. Most of the plans presented by the health team were already developed and contained in the 2009 National Pandemic Plan. However, knowing what to do is not the same as being able to deliver, as critical elements were lacking. It is those lackings that prompted PJP to correctly describe Saint Lucia as least prepared.
So let’s examine closer those missing elements. In March of 2020, the SJH hospital was and even today remains further away from commissioning than it was on June 6, 2016. The “hospidium” remained deplorable and itself was a health hazard. At that same time the OKEU remained un-commissioned, as the PM was engaged in secret negotiations to handover the facility to a foreign entity.
The Victoria hospital, with all its space and physical constraints, was not in a position to suitably isolate and quarantine possible patients, whilst maintaining normal operations. These obvious challenges were compounded by the PM harking back to the 1920s and proposing that Rat Island be used to quarantine patients.
There are no facilities or utilities at Rat Island. To have constructed facilities would not only be time consuming, but also costly. All this evinced the level of unpreparedness. The lack of preparedness was not limited to the infrastructure. At the time we had no testing kits available, (compare to Dominica or other OECS country).
There were insufficient PPE available to the frontline workers. No respirators. Further, some of the personnel in critical emergency management positions were new to their roles, and weren’t sufficiently familiar with the proper protocols. This is borne out by the fact that the National Influenza and Pandemic Response Plan was not properly activated.
All those things the PM have recently acknowledged to have been the case.
After PJP made the statement, the government was forced, at least temporarily, to shelve the idea of handing over the OKEU to a private entity. The health professionals that Hon Edwards praised demonstrated why they were worthy of that praise, as over the course of one weekend they were able to Commission the OKEU. Those are the same health professionals that the PM didn’t have sufficient confidence in to permit them to Commission the hospital earlier.
In the first 6 months following the statement, the rate of known local transmission was zero. Those who had contracted the virus through their travels recovered, and there were no fatal outcomes. The administration, through its surrogates, chose to gloat as opposed to being thankful for our luck.
Believing that they had the situation under control, and hoping to gain maximum political advantage, the Government felt no need to meet or consult with the opposition. Even after general shutdown of the country, the opposition submitted a list of proposals for the government’s consideration to ameliorate the hardships people were suffering and to stimulate economic activity.
The government has not even acknowledged receipt far less engage in discussion about the options.
Now that funding from the NIC for Income Support program has been exhausted, and new cases of community spread have been discovered, the government’s finely spun narrative of sterling management is unraveling. To distract from this unraveling they are, without identifying the criteria, proclaiming the CMO the best ever, and are supposedly standing with her, when in fact they are trying to hide behind and use her as a human shield.
My fellow Saint Lucians, save our professionals and our institutions. Demand and vote for a high performing health system. Vote SLP at next elections.
(Headline photo caption: Prime Minister Allen Chastanet presides over a meeting of cabinet)