My fellow citizens and residents, I pray God’s favour on our people and country. Tonight, I want to update you on the measures your Team Unity Government is taking to protect and prepare us for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19.
Very early in the year, our preparations began and all arms of your government are working to a robust plan, aimed at preventing this pandemic from arriving on our shores and to fight it should it arrive.
We approach this challenge from a strong position, with all our measures based on expert advice from our Chief Medical Officer, the National Emergency Management Agency Coordinator, and leading figures in the local, regional and international health community.
We cannot underestimate the potential societal and economic damage this pandemic could do. No country is immune from it.
The strongest global economies such the United States of America, Mainland China and Japan are being impacted. But it is a matter of stark contrast that with over 170 countries infected with the coronavirus, St. Kitts and Nevis, the smallest of the world’s economies, is yet to record a confirmed case of COVID-19.
For this, we give our omnipotent and omniscient God all the glory and praise. We do not find ourselves in this position by accident. Our Team Unity leadership deeply appreciates the work of our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hazel Laws and the National Working Group on COVID-19 ably led by Abdias Samuel, an experienced public servant in areas of disaster response and relief.
WORKING DILIGENTLY TO PROTECT AND FORTIFY OUR NATION
For months now, our plan has been to keep our people safe and to emerge from the advent of this COVID-19 as a stronger, safer and more united country.
Unlike some countries, we did not wait for the virus to hit our shores. Instead, we
have been working with the experts and studying, analyzing and strategizing,
utilizing various scenarios.
Very early on, your Cabinet determined the severe impact on public health and
safety and we tasked our professional civil servants to plan and recommend
courses of action in the national interest.
So comprehensive has their approach been that leading regional and international
experts have commended our health and inter-ministerial Working Group on
COVID-19 on their work to date.
On your behalf, I want to thank our frontline officials for their cooperation to date. We are drawing on expertise, experience and support from health experts at home and abroad, including CARPHA and PAHO. PAHO consultants visited St. Kitts and Nevis to assist us in training and fine-tuning our plans and preparations for the pandemic.
Our preparations, of course, are ongoing. We are in the process of acquiring additional essential protective equipment, including masks, gloves, sanitizers, ventilators and ambulances to name a few. Our early preparations mean we are ahead of several countries in the queue for necessary items, which require urgent production.
Our preparations involve us drawing on the expertise and experience of our partners in the region and further afield. We have reached out to several governments for support and assistance, including the United States of America, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Cuba.
Through this engagement, we have requested external support for some 85 health professionals, even as we reach out to our retired health workers at home. The Federal Government has committed so far to an additional $16.9 million to the health sector in response to the COVID-19. This sum of $16.9 million is in addition to the $62 million budgeted for the health sector in 2020.
We will spare no efforts and resources to keep our country safe.
Your Team Unity Government and our team of medical experts are working to a plan that is tailored to and specific for our needs here in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Here we are following the advice of the Director General of the World Health Organization who said that “different countries are in different scenarios, requiring a tailored response.”
The measures we are taking at this current phase of our plan address the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves. Just because something works in one country does not mean it will work in another. Indeed, it could make the situation worse.
Our plan to protect and prepare our people has a very clear objective to keep our people safe. It is based on advice from health and other experts and it draws on the lessons of what has and has not worked in other countries.
To ensure we are as prepared as we can be, our plan is constantly adapting. That is why we have activated our Health Emergency Operations Centre to allow for better coordination, efficiency and efficacy in our preparation and response outcomes. Our hard-working Chief Medical Officer (CMO) will spearhead this national emergency effort.
I personally find it disappointing that when we as a nation are facing our gravest threat in a generation, when we must come together and stand united, some people seek to use this to make political points and sow distrust and fear.
This pandemic is above politics. It knows no party, no class, no colours. At this time, we must stand united to defeat it.
I am reminded of the words of the Director General of the World Health Organization when he said, “We are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus and it is just as dangerous.”
If the information you are reading has not come from the Ministry of Health or from your government, you are right to question the source and indeed the motive. Should you require any information, your first point of contact must be our Ministry of Health, which can be reached at 467-1172 and 467-1108.
To ensure that you are provided with timely and accurate information, we have, through a partnership with FLOW, established a hotline 311, which is being built out in advance of any confirmed case of COVID-19 reaching our shores.
Ensuring the flow of accurate information is crucial during this period, and this is why my government is leading and committed to regular engagement with our Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CIC), Labour Unions, schools, health sector, police, immigration, private sector entities, and the like.
Our private pharmacies have had presentations by our medical experts on how to respond to the pandemic. Our public education programme has so far been one of the best organized and most expansive in the region. We intend to keep it that way.
Our Ministry of Labour & Social Security has spearheaded a dialogue with our partners on tourism and manufacturing and we are working with employers to coordinate a response to the evolving situation. Our Social Security Board will hold a special meeting on Monday to determine its response. Our Ministry of Finance has also been part of the governmental outreach and it is fine-tuning a government response to a fiscal and economic situation. The Ministry of Tourism will spearhead outreach with tourism stakeholders as we recalibrate our strategies on this important sector.
I anticipate on Tuesday, March 24th that we can provide more specifics at our Press Conference on what we as a small country of limited resources will do to make our country safer and more resilient in the face of an evolving externally driven pandemic.
Your Team Unity Government is working to a robust plan to protect and prepare you and your family for COVID-19. This is not a time for panic and excitable behaviours. It is for our leaders to act in the national interest, calmly, sensibly and conscientiously. This is the hallmark of your Team Unity Government and it is how we will approach the coming days and months.
We all must play a role to protect and prepare our Federation, and one way is through social distancing. These measures are being implemented again based on professional expert advice. We have, for example, already discontinued several sporting events like inter-school meets. We have restricted visitors to our prison to minimize possible infections there. Effective today, no visitors are being allowed at Her Majesty’s Prison until further notice. For their safety, we have also restricted visitors to the centres catering to the elderly, for example, the Cardin Home and the Saddlers Government facility in St. Kitts, as well as the Flamboyant Home and the St. George’s Anglican Home in Nevis, and all private facilities for the elderly. Our Ministry of Health has partnered with the private sector entities to provide support to these centres, and I am advised that commitments have been made.
STRENGTHENING OUR BORDERS
We continue to strengthen our borders daily as new information and advice comes forward. We have approved the recruitment for additional immigration and customs officers, as we defend our national health and security interests. We are a small open economy reliant on border management, both in and out, for our survival, including for emergency care of our citizens, some of whom may need emergency treatment abroad, food and medicine for which our ports must be able to accept.
As always, our measures will be based on what is right for St. Kitts and Nevis at this time and in keeping with the World Health Organization’s guidelines and our National Working Group on COVID-19. There is no one size fits all response.
TRAVEL ADVISORY UPDATE
Our Working Group recommended that Cabinet should update our Travel Advisory and we have accepted that recommendation. The key elements of our revised Travel Advisory are:
1. Citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis are strongly advised to avoid all non-essential travel to countries or jurisdictions where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed and where there is local/community transmission. Such countries include China, Iran, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Europe, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA).
2. Citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis arriving from the aforementioned destinations or any other jurisdiction will be subject to entry screening and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival.
3. International travelers from the aforementioned jurisdictions are strongly advised not to travel to St. Kitts and Nevis at this time, as you will be refused entry, unless an exceptional case for entry is made.
4. All non-national travelers arriving from any other international destination:
• Will go through an advanced screening process at the point of entry regardless of your point of origin,
• Will be subjected to a mandatory quarantine period of not less than 14 days at Government designated quarantine sites,
• Will receive health checks by Ministry of Health designated quarantine officials on a daily basis, and
• May be refused entry.
OVERSEAS STUDENTS AND CITIZENS ABROAD
All members of our St. Kitts and Nevis community will be impacted by the pandemic. Our hearts and minds are with our students studying abroad and their families. We encourage them to comply with all health and other advisories in the areas in which they live. We encourage them to take precautions to keep themselves safe. Avoid unnecessary travel at this time, avoid panic and of course remain calm. Our students and citizens, to the extent our airports remain open and flights are available, can return home. However, as a health precaution, they will be subject to a 14-day quarantine period on arrival.
In the event of emergencies or adverse developments, our Foreign Missions stand ready to assist. Support services can be accessed from the Embassies of the Eastern Caribbean States and Missions to the European Union located in Brussels, Belgium; our Washington, DC and New York Permanent Missions located in the United States of America; our High Commissions in London, United Kingdom and Ottawa, Canada, and our Embassy in Taipei, Taiwan. We also have consular support services being provided in Morocco and Dubai. Further details will be provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The coming days may not be easy, but by staying together there is nothing we as a people cannot achieve.
Your Team Unity Government will never give up, will never tire, will never rest until this COVID-19 is beaten.
Working with local, regional and international health experts, we will continue to deliver our robust plan to protect and prepare our people for the pandemic.
I am reminded of the Lord’s promise to us: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God and I will strengthen you.”
As a Federation and as a people, let’s stay together; let’s see this through.
I thank you, and may God continue to bless us all and keep us safe.