Response to COVID-19 Letter by Dr. Lewis, Montserrat Bar Association and Chamber of Commerce


Debra Lewis

Release Date

Saturday, March 14, 2020


The COVID-19 situation is a fluid one and everyone in this country shares the concern, albeit at varying levels.

Personally, I am of the opinion that when Public Health Authorities impose restrictions on individual freedoms, the intervention should be proportional to the magnitude of the threat. Montserrat has no confirmed cases and based on local epidemiologic and social assessments of the situation, measures taken to reduce the amount of time individuals spend at events, rather than an outright ban, may be more effective to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
As the situation evolves, it may become prudent to cancel shows, limit social gatherings, close schools, prohibit public transportation, reduce working hours etc. etc. in order to contain, delay or mitigate COVID-19. However, such community-based actions require extensive preparation and action across all sectors and therefore should be implemented only after full and proper consideration and when absolutely necessary.

Right now, let’s all advocate for public health measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, social distancing and environmental cleaning and ventilation as cornerstone personal measures that all of us can and should do. These have been proven to work against seasonal influenza which is bound to come and other respiratory viruses, and so the same measures are also effective for the prevention, detection, management and containment of COVID-19.

Further, we are well aware that the vast majority of ‘visitors’ around this time are Montserratians. To my knowledge, and I stand corrected since events can change quickly, no country can refuse their nationals entry. And in fact, Jamaica is the only country in the region to have taken a position to restrict (not ban!) arrivals from the United Kingdom but not from the United States. Go figure!

Antigua is Montserrat’s primary gateway to the rest of the world and it is indisputable that visitors to Montserrat are being screened in Antigua and locally. Should we ramp it up? Most certainly!

Let’s talk about test kits. Exactly what are they? My understanding is that a ‘test kit’ is a combination of three things – a very specialized piece of equipment, the testing expert and trained staff - which costs upwards of US$90,000. Currently, we have in place the capacity to collect test samples and courier them to Trinidad to the CARPHA Medical Microbiology Laboratory (CMML). If turnaround times are too long, perhaps we need to troubleshoot with the courier companies, CARPHA, airlines and ground transportation how we improve delivery targets. Whilst at the same time, exploring opportunities in Guadeloupe or other neighbouring countries. Or even the purchase of the COVID-19 testing capability. Comprehensive appraisal of all the options is what’s important.

I agree that we have a weaker-than-most health system but the threat of COVID-19 only magnifies the gravity of the problem. Hopefully, this situation should serve to reinforce the message of how much we need a properly functioning, modern hospital. Period!

Also, if ever there was a time when we needed the underground cable project tis now. Virtual meetings and electronic media are critical communication platforms at a time when personal contact should be limited and non-essential travel curtailed. Underground cables are less susceptible to severe weather storms like hurricanes not to mention the economic advantages. Do be careful what you ask for and try not to cut off the proverbial nose to spite the proverbial face. I’m sure our financial analysts and benefactors continue to push the envelope on this matter.

Let’s continue the discourse though. COVID-19 considerations are multi-sectoral and not a one size fits all situation! All ideas should contend! We should not be copy cats for copy cat sake.

Consequently, statements from medical professionals and community leaders should be responsible, and include practical ways to reduce risk as well as balanced rationales for their position-taking to encourage public trust and adherence to advice. Further, by banning public events we are automatically invoking emergency powers and if we do, what measures will be in place and what powers will be removed from our democratically elected government. I am calling for calm and sensible minds. Please Montserratians. Please.

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