By Ernie Seon
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, March 17, 2020 (CMC) – The St. Lucia government says three major hotels, operating here, are to close, as the island seeks to address the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on its economy, as well its population.
Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, who appeared on television, on Monday night, flanked by members of his Cabinet, told viewers “the virus continues to have an untold economic effect, globally, and, in particular, St. Lucia”.
St. Lucia recently confirmed it had two “imported’ cases of the virus that was first detected in China, last December, and blamed for more than 7,900 deaths across 110 countries since then. At least 50 of the cases are in the Caribbean, with at least three deaths.
Chastanet told the nation, “it is unfortunate, but we have received recent indication of the impending closure of three major hotels”, and while he did not go into details, announced that impact of the virus should be treated as an imminent disaster, like a hurricane.
He said it was for that reason, that last month, the authorities activated the National Emergency Advisory Committee (NEMAC), the implementing agency in times of national disaster, and that all schools would remain closed, with all school-related activities suspended, until further notice.
Chastanet described the measure as the first step in the social-distancing protocol, which should not be treated as a regular school vacation.
He said the Ministry of Education is collaborating with telecommunications service providers, and will, shortly, advise, in regard to alternative ways of delivering education instruction to students.
Chastanet said mass crowd events, of more than 50 persons, are being discouraged and that as a first step, the annual Jazz Festival has been cancelled; and there will be a meeting of officials of the culture and creative industries, today, to discuss the way forward, for Carnival and other events.
The government also announced that all yachting and pleasure craft calls into St. Lucia will be suspended, with immediate effect, and, as of today, the travel restrictions will be further expanded, to include mainland France, Germany, Spain, Iran and the United Kingdom.
“We have also strengthened our protocols for screening visitors, arriving at both the air and sea ports,” Chastanet said, noting that, as of March 16, the Ministry of Health activated three respiratory clinics at strategic locations, which are intended to take care of persons, who have respiratory infections.
He said a hotline will be operational, by the end of this week, using the “311” number, where citizens will be able to get information on COVID-19. Mobile telephones will be made available, from this week, to physicians, to provide medical advice, via telephone consultation, to persons with medical concerns with COVID-19.
Chastanet said that his administration has reached out to friendly governments, such as Taiwan, Cuba and India, to provide technical support, “as we strengthen our ability to manage this virus”.
“I am pleased to note that testing kits for the coronavirus have arrived on the island, and staff are currently undergoing training, with a testing lab to be set up, later this week. This will substantially reduce our waiting time for results, from 24 hours to approximately two to four hours.
“There is no doubt that confronting this virus will test our resources – medical and economic — and it will also have a psychological effect. We are now heading to higher-alert levels and if we do begin to see cases in the community, we will have to review our decisions and move to more stringent measures,” the Prime Minister said.
Chastanet said that since the crisis began, there has been remarkable cooperation and collaboration at all levels of the society, and thanked Opposition Leader, Philip J. Pierre, and all legislators, for their participation and support in the national effort.
Chastanet also expressed gratitude to doctors, nurses, other health personnel, air and seaports employees, firefighters and police officers, who have all gone beyond the call of duty, insisting that he has the ultimate confidence in the local health team, led by Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharon Belmar-George.
“Together, we have been coordinating and building the health infrastructure that we anticipate will be required,” Chastanet said, praising his Health Minister, Mary Isaac, and her staff, for their dedication, commitment and competence.