The New Democratic Party is deeply concerned with the cavalier approach of the Unity Labour Party government in managing COVID- 19. We are demanding that the government implement stricter measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

In his press conference in February, Dr. Friday questioned the government’s preparedness to deal with the COVID-19. Dr. Friday said, “There is great public concern about the Corona Virus, the potential risks it poses and our country’s level of preparedness to deal with them. The alarm was initially raised when a cruise ship was allowed to dock at Kingstown but was not permitted to dock in other Caribbean ports as a precautionary measure. We have also heard that at least 17 persons have been placed under quarantine as a measure to guard against potential spread of the virus.

The international alarm caused by the crisis, the mounting death toll in China is good reasons for us to be extremely cautious in relation to this matter and to take every reasonable precaution to protect the public. The health officials must keep the public constantly informed about any new developments and about the measures that are implemented to prevent the virus from becoming a health problem in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Information is key to prevent speculation and panic among our people. The Government needs to do a better job of informing the public and preparing for any appearance of the virus here.”

So far, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded one confirmed case of COVID-19, but the government has been sending mixed messages to its citizens. For instance, the Ministry of Health has advised Vincentians to practice social distancing and reduce public gatherings to twenty-five (25) persons or less but the government has not complied. Instead, the Prime Minister and other government officials were seen in a gathering with more than twenty-five (25) persons on Union Island on Monday 23rd March.

However, Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Godwin Friday, has written to Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Saturday 21st March, about the COVID-19 crisis.

Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s letter to Dr. Gonsalves

As Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party, I have a responsibility to put the national interests before partisan political interests and to work for the common good. In times of crisis in our country, this principle rises to paramount importance. I have repeatedly called on our government, civil society organizations and individuals to acknowledge our present condition and work together for the good of all.

I renew that call here today. We in the Opposition offer our assistance and commitment to do whatever we can to assist the government and nation to confront and overcome this most serious threat. Prime Minister, I urge that you accept this genuine offer of cooperation in the spirit intended and that we put aside political partisanship as we deal with this existential crisis.

There are actions we can take to allay fears and constructively foster an atmosphere of calm among our citizenry even as we protect against the spread of the coronavirus in SVG. I recommend the following measures, among others that may become necessary as this crisis unfolds, that we can take and which I hope to discuss further in a meeting with you.

The Ministry of Health has informed us that the single confirmed COVID-19 case in SVG has been managed to prevent the risk of community spread. To protect us further against spread of infection, we must take steps immediately to prevent importation of the coronavirus. This requires closing our seaports and airports immediately to restrict travel in and out of SVG for all but absolutely essential travel and trade in necessary supplies. This includes closing our ports to cruise ships, yachts and other pleasure crafts for a period of time to be determined after further deliberation.

Stricter social distancing controls and guidelines must be advocated publicly and enforced as best we can. All public gatherings should be discouraged and reduced to only what are necessary to maintain essential public services and promote public health.

Ensure that water is available to all people throughout SVG so that they can comply with the recommended personal hygiene practices

Urgently enable testing for the coronavirus in SVG and begin widespread testing. Priority should be given to those who come into contact with persons who have tested positive for the coronavirus or are suspected of being infected with it. Waiting for symptoms to show before testing is a risky approach that may create more harm.

Explain to the nation what to expect in a worst-case scenario of the spread of the coronavirus in SVG and how government services (especially health services), businesses, transport services and individuals are expected to respond. The participation of seasoned medical, public health and other personnel with related expertise drawn from both civil society and the government service should be enlisted in this effort.

I am heartened by the declarations of the government’s intention and regional efforts to develop measures to cushion the economic disruption and financial hardship that will result from the COVID-19 pandemic. The involvement of businesses, financial institutions, trade unions and the Opposition is essential to this planning process and the successful implementation of our ongoing response. Therefore, I urge that there be consultation with them.

The Members of the Opposition are available to meet appropriately with you and with other members of the government and public institutions to discuss our recommendations further and plan on an ongoing basis for the implementation of a national response to this unprecedented crisis.