March 29, 2022 saw the Gazetting of Statutory Rules and Order No. 14 of 22; the Public Health (COVID-19) (Gathering) (Repeal) Rules 2022 and, 15 of 22; the Public Health (COVID-19) (Amendment) Rules 2022. These Statutory Rules and Orders as their name suggests amended by way of repealing the Public Health (COVID-19) (Gathering) Rules 2021 that placed a number of restrictions on various forms of gatherings as necessitated by the circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It wasn’t too long ago that this country was experiencing a spike in new COVID-19 infections that resulted in increased hospitalisations of the critically ill and the tragic increase of COVID-19related deaths. To curb the spread of the virus based on the surge in cases, the Parliament of this country conferred upon the Minister of Health, powers within the law to issue the necessary orders in June of 2021. While we agree that the measures were necessary at the time as one of the measures used to prevent the further spread of the virus, it is also indisputable that the measures impacted some sectors negatively and businesses faced challenges as a result.
During this period when the order was in effect, churches, restaurants, night clubs, and event promotors were all anxious to be able to resume activities in the pre-covid manner. The Ministry of Health constantly monitored the situation, and in advising the Cabinet, felt that to protect our society it was both necessary and desirable that the restrictions on gatherings remained in place. Following the announcement of the repeal of the 2021 Order, it appears that some have thrown caution to the wind and have decided that the COVID-19 pandemic is no more. The data from the Public Health Sub-committed within NEMO indicates that we have very few active cases recorded with zero infection rate currently, but we continue to urge caution among our population since we are not yet out of the woods.
Continue to follow the protocols
The COVID-19 pandemic is not behind us and already we are hearing of a new strain of the virus being discovered that from indications may present significant challenges to our health care system. It would be reckless to dismiss such news as scaremongering, while at the same time to overreact or panic is necessary, as always we encourage you to listen to the medical experts and follow the protocols. Those COVID-19 protocols that served us over the last 2 years that included hand washing, hand sanitising, cough and sneeze etiquette (using the cuff of elbows) and mask wearing, should not be dispensed with simply because the restrictions on gatherings have been repealed. The “we’re outside” attitude that has become too common-place, especially among the youthful and party-going population is undesirable, and we urge a much more cautious and reasoned approach. Some business places continue to require masks on entry (masks were never mandated; these were individually imposed restrictions) while some have dispensed with those restrictions. Ultimately, it depends on the individual to ensure that every care is taken to protect himself/herself and continuing to observe health and hygiene protocols will go a long way on helping this country to manage the spread of the virus and keeping our citizens safe.
Over the past few months, the Ministry of Health has ramped up its efforts to try and increase the vaccination rates among Vincentians with a number of drive-through caravans to various parts of the country as well as hosting pop-up sites, all this while maintaining access at various clinics across the country. This country remains close to the bottom of CARICOM countries regarding vaccination with very slow uptake as vaccination hesitancy, buoyed by an active anti-vax campaign, remains too high. With all the conspiracy theories that were floated around regarding the safety of the vaccines and all the supposed horrible side effects that were “extremely prevalent”, SVG is yet to see any reported case of death or injury related to a covid-19 vaccine. According to Ministry of Health statistic, this country has administered more than 69,800 vaccine doses with just over 30,000 Vincentians receiving both. This speaks to the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines which is why vaccination remains the best tool in the toolbox in our fight against the spread of the virus. This is true not just of the COVID-19 vaccines, but vaccines in general which have collectively helped to eradicate a number of dreaded diseases within the last 150 years. Vaccines remain readily available to all Vincentians and we continue to urge all to get vaccinated and to those who have been vaccinated, to get boosted even as the protocol regarding gatherings have been relaxed. As we move into the Easter weekend where a number of activities are planned and then into the Carnival season after a two-year absence, let us ensure that this county has the highest level of protection possible by going out and taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
No doubt, the announcement of the repeal of the 2021 Public Health (COVID-19) (Gatherings) Rule, was very welcomed by many who had seen a significant decline in their church, business and other activities that entered around gathering. The lifting of the restrictions, while consistent with a decline in infections and active cases, by no means indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic is no more. We urge that as we return to gathering for fellowship or other reasons, that we do so in a manner that is safe and offers maximum protection for all. Continue to follow those hygiene protocols that help minimise the spread of the disease and best of all get vaccinated; it’s the best tool available in this fight against the virus.