By Marlon Madden, Barbados Today
Come Sunday, any Barbadian entering the island from the United States, or Europe will be required to enter 14 days of quarantine.
This was the major stepped-up measure announced by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley in light of the confirmation of three new COVID-19 cases bringing the total number of cases to five in two days.
During a media conference at the Prime Minister’s official residence at Ilaro Court on Thursday, Mottley revealed that as at midday, three new cases were confirmed – the spouse of the 48-year-old visiting female who was one of the first two positive cases recorded on Tuesday; a 60-year-old Barbadian who arrived from New York over the weekend and an individual from a cruise ship docked off the shores of Barbados.
“With respect to the first two cases, there is a significant amount of contact tracing that is still being done, particularly with the Barbadian who came in on the weekend, and it is too early for the medical officials to advise us as to the results of that contact tracing,” she said.
“They have advised me, however, that they have tested the other Barbadian who tested first, and the contact tracing with her family has suggested that they should also be able to have results later this afternoon with respect to her husband and two children. The good news being she literally did not go anywhere once she landed,” said Mottley.
On Tuesday officials announced the island recorded its first two cases of the virus which originated in China late last year.
“We have also taken a decision, given the fact that these cases have presented themselves with Barbadians coming from New York, that any persons arriving from the USA, from the UK or Europe will have to quarantine or self-quarantine if they are Barbadian, for 14 days going forward,” Mottley announced.
She said authorities have already informed JetBlue and American Airlines of the development, noting that the three-day notice was to give people time to plan.
Mottley said the cruise passengers will continue to be transported to the Grantley Adams International Airport for their departing flights.
The last flight for those people will leave on Sunday, while the remaining crew members will not be allowed to come on shore.
With the tourism industry already reeling from the effect of the pandemic, the Prime Minister said she anticipated a further reduction in airlines’ service to the island, with American Airlines grounding flights from next week until May, WestJet is grounding flights as at this weekend, and Air Canada [is] to stop flying here within another ten days.
“The Minister of Tourism will give further details in the next few days, but we anticipate that there will be a significant reduction in services,” she said.
Mottley said as a result she did not expect any significant activities at the airport, but said the decision was taken not to close it completely “because at the end of the day this country still needs to have access to the international world, whether it is for emergency supplies, medical, emergency parts or various other things”.
She said after meeting with union officials and a range of private sector representatives at all levels from several industries, about 90 per cent of them agreed the island’s borders “should not be shut fully”.
Mottley said she was anticipating more coronavirus cases in Barbados in coming days, but called on residents to play their part in limiting the spread, while issuing an impassioned plea to the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions especially to heed the official advice.
“The vulnerable population is where our concern is,” she said.
“We have to come to the reality that there will be a large number of Barbadians who will get the virus. But I want to say to you that [of] that large number, the overwhelming majority will only have mild symptoms,” she said, adding that there will be a few who will require medical treatment and advice and even fewer who may require to be placed in an isolation facility and get the full medical treatment.
She said only last week Government declined to test a number of cruise ship passengers for the virus, saying that the island did not have the capacity at the time.
However, she gave the assurance that the Ministry of Health had been investing $30 million in significantly expanding the main hospital and medical treatment facilities in relation to primary and secondary isolation care and quarantine facilities.
“We are in a good shape to be able to start to face this,” said Mottley.
With testing being done twice per day, as at Wednesday evening, 70 tests had been carried out, and another 20 tests were due today.
The island is expecting to import 50, 000 test kits – 5 000 by early April and 20,000 shortly after. The arrangements for the remaining 25,000 are being settled.
Mottley told journalists that Friday she would address concerns surrounding the economic impact the pandemic was having on the island.
“Will it be normal fully? No, it won’t because the mere fact that people are staying at home who constitute the vulnerable means that it is a different reality for them. Will the rest of us have to carry the weight while we are not sick? Yes, we will, and can we do it? Yes, we can, and we will come out of this successfully ultimately? Yes, we shall, but together as one Barbados,” said an optimistic Mottley.