Hope of an early return to normal life in Saint Lucia has been diminished but not extinguished, as Saint Lucians hunker down for yet another month (May) of curfews, standing in line and shortened business hours, all measures aimed at combatting the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet this week echoed what several Saint Lucians have been fearing; a sense that they are likely to live with this virus for a long time as the repercussions of the disease becomes a reality.
With a total of 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 15 of which have recovered and been discharged from care and with a total of 446 tests carried out to date (as of this week), the call that the country is not yet out of the woods where the virus is concerned continues to be made by both the medical and executive branches of government.
“We are still implementing our national response to the COVID-19 epidemic and as such, we should collectively remain focused and committed to the actions for reducing the spread of this virus,” noted the island’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Sharon Belmar-George.
She said it was difficult, at this stage to accurately predict how the pandemic will progress in Saint Lucia now that there is a gradual enablement of the availability of essential services, something which will increase the risk of transmission.
“The reality is Saint Lucia cannot remain closed indefinitely. Our assumption is the likely scenario for the epidemic within our context shall be recurring waves with low level transmission. This requires that the public work closely with us in maintaining the physical distancing measures at all times. The public must note that COVID-19 remains in all regions around us and given it is a new virus our entire population is at risk of getting it at some point in time,” George said, adding that Saint Lucians need to learn to live safely in this COVID-19 environment.
“Every single sector must also prepare for the new way of operating in anticipation,” she added. Prime Minister Chastanet also sung from the same hymnal as George, explaining to Saint Lucians via a national address earlier this week that government took what it believed to be the best measures to protect the population from COVID-19.
“And whilst we are clearly not yet out of the woods, there is no doubt that we have been successful in this regard with a 100% recovery rate, no deaths and with no apparent current cases on the island. For that we give thanks to God. We know that many of the measures we have had to take have made life uncomfortable and difficult for many – but it was better than allowing infection and possibly death to result,” Chastanet said.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) George meanwhile called on Saint Lucians to ensure that their immune system is functioning at its best.
“This requires a balanced, healthy diet including the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, drinking water throughout the day, regular exercise, adequate rest, and sleep and managing our stress level to keep it to a minimum. Also, the avoidance of smoking, drugs and excessive alcohol intake which are all detrimental to the body and limits our ability to properly manage illnesses,” she said.
CMO George insisted that some individual measures that must be sustained include hygiene measures such as hand washing and respiratory etiquette, use of homemade face masks, remaining home and away from public places when sick, regular personal hygiene and keeping homes and office spaces clean.
She is of the view that the populations most at risk, which include the elderly and persons living with chronic conditions, would require special considerations to keep them safe and healthy which includes staying at home as much as possible and ensuring control of chronic conditions, while taking advantage of various health and other services.
“The Ministry of Health and Wellness has kept health services available to ensure care for our chronic care patients, urgent care conditions, emergencies, antenatal care, and immunization programme to name a few. We have had to make adjustments to conform to the physical distancing protocols and to ensure a safe environment for our patients who need care. One of the new measures includes the appointment system for the specialty clinics, antenatal care and child health clinics. We ask the public to be patient and cooperate with us,” George said.
Meanwhile the partial shutdown of the country will continue all the way to the end of this month. Government has allowed for increased activity in some areas. For instance, church gatherings have been limited to ten persons, this has now been amended to accommodate more people and will be governed by the square footage of the church building and the maintaining of the six-foot distance. The Construction sector is now opened under strict protocols as outlined by the Ministry of Infrastructure.
“This week we will allow the operations of private doctors and clinics. Considering that many local designers, tailors and seamstresses are making masks to assist with the protocols, we will allow the opening of fabric and haberdashery stores,” Chastanet said, adding that the curfew from 7pm to 5am, the zones and stay at home orders remain in effect.