13 March 2020
HE the Governor
We the undersigned write to record our concern over government’s continued mismanagement of the coronavirus problem.
1. Despite government’s promise to do so, visitors to Montserrat are not yet being screened for the virus prior to entering the island. Such screening should be done in Antigua and not locally. Crowded ferries are a perfect medium for the virus to spread.
2. Visitors travelling from countries where the virus has already surfaced will at some time soon have to be quarantined whether or not they show any symptoms.
3. Government says it has made arrangements for testing for the virus to be done in Trinidad. The turnaround time is at least 4 days and is likely to be longer when the virus takes hold in Trinidad. We suggest instead that testing be done in Guadeloupe or better yet that government purchases test kits and brings an expert to Montserrat to train local technicians so that testing can done locally.
4. The harsh reality is that Montserrat does not have the capability to treat even one severe case, let alone several. This is because our health care system is appallingly deficient. There are no independent respirators and no ICU. Where will the sick be treated? The hospital is not an option as the virus will spread rapidly to already sick patients who are there, who are then likely to perish. hospital staff should be exposed to the risk of infection and being quarantined. It is unlikely that Antigua and other neighbouring islands will accept sick people.
5. If immediate financing is required, permission should be sought to divert some of the funds from the road cable laying project to urgently finance the preparations for managing the virus crisis over the next 3 months and DfID should provide emergency funding is being done in the UK.
6. There is a real possibility that a worldwide travel ban of a 1 to 2 month duration could be imminent. This means that visitors could be stuck on an island without adequate health services, supplies, housing or personnel. Persons who have not yet travelled to Montserrat should cancel their trip and those who need to return home should travel this weekend.
7. No facility has yet been identified publicly for quarantine purposes. Based on expert medical advice one option for temporary accommodation for groups of persons arriving on island who require quarantine is the Golden Years Home, subject to residents being relocated to other homes. Existing or quickly refurbished hotel accommodation is another option
8. The docking of cruise ships at Montserrat and circulation of passengers locally, which incredibly took place as recently as 12th March 2020, should be stopped. This is consistent with measures adopted by other countries that are managing the spread of the virus prudently. Some cruise lines have already ceased operating voluntarily.
9. All St. Patrick’s Day celebrations should be cancelled immediately in keeping with other countries banning public events and limiting social gatherings. No other country that we are aware of is allowing public events to go ahead at this time.
10. Government must now encourage visitors to leave ASAP as it can offer them no proper medical treatment if they fall ill. It should immediately stem the influx of new visitors for the simple reason that that it can offer them no treatment.
11. We have discovered that government has reduced public access to hand sanitizer by buying up all supplies available at local retailers. This practice should cease as it means that no hand sanitizer is now available to private citizens.
12. In line with other countries consideration must now be given to the point at which school attendance should stop temporarily. It is well known that viruses spread rapidly in schools and then to the general population.
13. Both public and private sector agencies should work together to manage the crisis and on how to do so. Immediate assistance should be sought from the British Government by way of equipment, respirators, expertise and advice. Government must include local private sectors experts on its advisory panel. In view of the potential crisis, all relevant expertise on island should be harnessed.
14. Government’s unsatisfactory management of the situation thus far has been in collaboration with neighbouring Caribbean countries. However, the involvement of United Kingdom specialist agencies is now imperative.
15. Government should pay close attention to how other countries that have managed the virus effectively thus far (e.g. Singapore) are doing so. Government must acknowledge that we have a pandemic.
16. Unfortunately, by allowing a large influx of untested people into Montserrat from countries with infected populations, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to continue unabated and cruise ships to dock, Government has, several times over, increased the risk to residents of contracting the virus and of loss of life. This is thoroughly reprehensible.
We call on Government to take immediate steps to bring the situation under control and make a prompt and full public statement on the matter.
Dr Lowell Lewis
Montserrat Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Montserrat Bar Association