Vincentian health authorities would finally be able to conduct in-country Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests in the ongoing war against COVID-19. Providing that Senator Luke Browne’s projection that the newly repurposed lab would be functional by May 29, 2020 holds true.

Senator Brown currently serves as the local Health Minister and took time to appear on Asbert News Network’s weekly interview broadcast dubbed On De Spot. He was responding to a viewer’s query at the time of his pronouncement. Brown was also asked to give an idea as to the amount of training that would be invested in personnel expected to man the equipment and the attendant testing processes.

He said, “the PCR machine is a machine we would be able to use. Machines of this type are similar to what we have in the lab already. So it’s as if you learn to fly a plane and you’re going to basically apply those skills onto a slightly different plane. So it’s not going to take extensive training.

“We were hoping to have the machine up and running already. What has happened – what we had to do was more or less customize a space within the health system for it to be placed. I think that that customization required a little bit of infrastructural work which is being finished up as I understand it and then the setup of the machine and the training itself is not going to take more than a day or two.”

The Health Minister remarked that the PCR machine is “essential” if his government is to effectively find and isolate positive COVID-19 cases. He also noted that the currently COVID-19 testing service provided by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has been seamless and “with a reasonable turnaround time without any issues.”

While those arrangements would continue to apply, he noted, “your own PCR machine in-country … gives you some flexibility to more or less tailor your testing policy and approach to your particular circumstances on the ground,” Senator Browne said.

The East Kingstown MP hopeful reminded ANN’s audience of the obstacles that had to be surmounted before the equipment landed here even as he announced more COVID-19 support from Taiwan.

“We are expecting to have at least 2 more PCR machines coming to us courtesy the Republic of China on Taiwan… the date of arrival is not yet been provided but we could perhaps see them get here between the next week or two.”

Taiwan’s largesse came in for special mention as the Senator was audibly appreciative for the tangible support that the Eastern Asia small island state has pledged to SVG’s COVID-19 response. He said, “this is a country who stood beside us in the course of this response in many different ways. …

“On Friday we received 4 ventilators from Taiwan. Now these ventilators by themselves just in terms of the purchase cost … almost US $100, 000. That’s a quarter million dollars in EC terms from Taiwan to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for the ventilators alone.

“In addition to that they are giving us 450 temperature check handheld devices…. We got 6 imaging thermal devices that have been setup – there was a demonstration again on Friday at the airport – that allows us to do body temperature screening for persons getting into the country. The handheld thermometers would allow us to basically do several different things and be nimble about it… These devices, when we get them, could be deployed so that there could be a very quick check of temperatures of students at school, if necessary.

“We’re happy that shortly we’d be in a position to set up our own testing or carry out our own testing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The idea, once the other machines get to SVG, is to decentralize the lab sites. Therefore each PCR machine would have its own jurisdiction. And the services would also be varied.

As to the PCR machine already in hand, “it would be up and ready, I could say fairly confidently, during this week. We were hoping we would have had it up and running by Friday but because we had to basically customize a space or retrofit a space to have it located that put us over that original timeframe,” Senator Browne clarified on May 24, 2020.