A seven-day shutdown of the country by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet ran into a few hitches that forced him and his administration to do some improvisations along the way. However, a quick relaxing of the rules of the shutdown yesterday may have caused exactly what the prime minister has been fighting against all along.
The shutdown, which was announced Tuesday night by the prime minister at approximately nine in the evening came into effect at 5:00am the next day and shortly after raised a storm of protest as Saint Lucians took to social media to vent their disappointment at primarily the suddenness of it all, which they say gave them no opportunity to get grocery items to help them brave the weeklong lockdown.
Farmers and fishers as well vented their dismay at the sudden announcement questioning whether they too were to stay indoors without the benefit of attending to their gardens, animals and disposing of produce prepared on the day of the announcement for market the next day.
The act of locking down the country was not the reason for the displeasure shown by some Saint Lucians. It was government’s lack of providing them with a window, provided by other sister countries of CARICOM to their citizens, to get themselves prepared for the lockdown that triggered the disenchantment with the prime minister’s announcement which came into effect immediately.
Government quickly realized the dire position it put some sectors of the population in and sought shortly after to amend its decision first by allowing fishers, who went to sea Tuesday to sell their fish the very first day of the island-wide lockdown of the country.
“But that is only for today, when it is 4:00pm we expect all fishermen to be back. We will not allow fishermen to go out after today,” was the warning from Agriculture Minister Ezechiel Joseph Wednesday morning.
Also given a pass to deal with what provides them with an income were produce and livestock farmers with certain protocols put in place for them to adhere to. Produce farmers were even allowed to sell their produce to the Saint Lucia Marketing Board
Then came the announcement that the moms and pops shops in the various communities in the island including mini marts were to open Thursday, for a six-hour period, to provide persons needing the necessary grocery items that would carry them through the country-wide shut down.
This turned out to be a recipe for the coronavirus spread in the country as hundreds of Saint Lucians descended on those small shops oblivious of social distancing protocols, as set out by the Ministry of Health, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization.
Weeks of pleading, begging, beseeching, entreating and imploring Saint Lucians to stay at least six or more feet away from each other so as to prevent the spread of the virus seemed to have been all in vain, particularly in Castries as Saint Lucians paid no heed, tumbling over each other and getting in each other’s faces in a bid to get essentials for themselves and their families.
Many Saint Lucians questioned the decision by government not to open the larger supermarkets that day, noting that with a larger space the social distancing protocols could be better administered than at the small shops where just ten or less persons inside would severely impact on the required space between each of them.
However, despite that, the opening of the community shops was well received by Saint Lucians all over the country as many of them said that had the shops remain shut they would have been seriously affected.
Also opened briefly yesterday were a handful of petrol stations to service vehicles belonging to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force and those of the National Emergency Management Office. But even that had a slice of controversy as one gas station in Castries, said to be given an order to open ended up having to close down its pumps while another, remained opened.
Meanwhile the administration of Prime Minister Chastanet continues to remind Saint Lucians to stay at home as this may be the “cure” for stopping in-country transmission of the virus and warning that police will prosecute those who fail to adhere to the 24-hour curfew that the country is still under.