Reports reaching ANN ,on February 14th 2020 , claimed that five (5)Chinese nationals who live here, were allowed to return to their suburban home sometime this month following a recent trip to their motherland. Sources say that these persons were supposedly quarantined at that home. Another 5 persons of Chinese heritage are said to be ‘quarantined’ at another house elsewhere.
One source, told ANN “the police and all who guarding the house, what they [the guard detail] doing there? How were they supposed to stop anybody who want to leave the house, without protection?” The source said in reference to what was described as the conspicuous lack of personal protective equipment recently promised by senior health officials.
By mid-afternoon, reports were that members from one of the households were unaccounted for when unidentified health officials arrived on the scene. Friday evening would bring news that “an ambulance and people in hazmat suits” populated the mostly affluent neighbourhood. According to one anonymous source “…. I passed this house and I saw an ambulance and people in hazmat suits…. Not a light on in the yard of the people house. The place looked like they trying to cover it up. A yellow ambulance – the ambulance is parked in the road now….”. A social media video has since surfaced in which several persons can be seen wearing face masks of the kind popular in highly infectious zones.
Incredulous, in light of the February 3rd Ministry of Health’s media briefing held particularly to reassure the nation that such an eventuality was properly prepared for; ANN sought to investigate the allegations.
Medical Health Officer Dr Roger Duncan told ANN while he “could confirm or deny” the location of the quarantined individuals “for obvious reasons” such is the standard protocol for the duration of the 14-day incubation period. He reminded ANN that persons coming into contact with “high prevalence areas’ through their travels would automatically be isolated regardless of presenting symptoms. He also added that this is still the “flu season in the North, so persons are still coughing and sneezing,” symptoms quite like, but different to the deadly coronavirus.
ANN also caught up with Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache by mid-Saturday afternoon. “The Ministry continues to quarantine persons as necessary per our established protocols” she said when asked if any potential coronavirus cases were being treated as rumoured in the area.
As to the allegations of ill-equipped police officers on guard duty, the Medical Chief told ANN “the Ministry of Health is not going to endanger any Vincentian or non-Vincentian in this process. We will equip everybody and anybody who has anything to do with this process.”
Recently, the Gonsalves led government found itself explaining to the populace why the AIDA Perla was given the green light to arrive at Kingstown’s cruise ship berth on January 31st when neighbouring OECS members denied entry to that same ship within 48 hours of its Kingstown departure.
To abate mounting concerns here, local Health Minister, Luke Browne told media audiences that they did all the necessary screening in relation to that cruise ship and the decision to allow it to dock here was consistent with the guidance which was being offered by the public health agencies. “In the first place not because somebody is sick means that automatically the vessel should not come here… but I want to underscore that we did our public health assessment before that vessel came and docked here and proved that it was safe for it to be able to come to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and that there was no risk to Vincentians”, the health minister added.
Member of Parliament, Daniel Cummings has since been reprimanded, as he debated the 2020 Budget, for voicing his opinion that the Vincentian authorities seemed to be too preoccupied in boosting cruise tourism arrival numbers to the value of citizens’ health.
At the Health Ministry’s February 3rd media conference, Luke Browne – using what was then slightly outdated World Health Organisation figures attempted to reassure Vincentians “as you know… many of these cases have been restricted to China … outside of China they reported 82 cases. So, there’s a grand total of almost 8000 cases but outside of China there are only 80 cases or so. So, we have an indication that this is not something that is badly affecting other countries outside of China. There are these 82 cases which cover 18 countries.” The Health Minister then surmised “based on all this information put together we have the guidance from WHO and then CARFA that there is basically a low risk from this coronavirus as far as affecting the Caribbean countries are concerned.”
Browne, who is in fact a Senator in the Gonsalves’ led government, further informed Vincentians that his Ministry “leads a national surveillance committee [which in these circumstances] kicks into high gear, in the aftermath of these declarations, a plan that we had developed for infectious diseases – the Infectious Diseases Prevention Plan – so this thing doesn’t catch us with our pants down at all.
Several Health Ministry functionaries addressed the media with details meant to convey the Ministry’s continued response to the virus.
Following this media conference, the next means of public communication came via a Health Ministry release published on February 8. It “advised that a Vincentian national who was in China has returned home. This person is in good health and shows no sign of fever, cough or any other symptom associated with the novel coronavirus…. the individual is currently under quarantined and will be monitored on a daily basis….” The Ministry also reminded “the public that: non-essential travel to China is currently not recommended and all persons arriving in St. Vincent and the Grenadines having been in mainland China in the last 14 days will be quarantined.”
Most recently another release dated February 14, 2020 was issued. In part it announced “the Ministry also wishes to restate that anyone who arrives in St. Vincent and the Grenadines having been in China within 14 days prior to arrival will be quarantined for 2 weeks. The cooperation of the general public is solicited. The first activation of the quarantine as an infection control practice was effected on Friday, February 7, and since that date the Ministry has continued to apply it as necessary and required.”
To date, over 67 194 infection cases have been documented, of those 1527 patients died while 8600 persons have recovered. Of the 57 067 currently infected patients. 81% are said to be in a mild condition while 11 082 or (19%) are classified as being serious or critical, worldmeteters.info reports.