Opposition Calls for More Action on Montserrat’s Management of COVID-19 – Related Issues

Both the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Lewis and former premier, now member of the Opposition Donaldson Romeo has written a letter to the premier in light of the recent developments of COVID 19 on Montserrat.

Lewis called on Premier Easton Taylor-Farrell to request financial support from the British Government to deal with the island’s management of the virus and the implications. He said there are now associated hardships with Saturday’s decision to restrict gatherings of more than 50 people. These include the financial losses for promoters, parents who now are forced to miss work to stay home with children as schools have been ordered to remain closed until April 6 and the local businesses impacted by the restrictions.

Former premier Romeo said that no clear decision to cancel the St. Patrick’s Festival was made and this was still needed. He called for the leader of government to take more drastic measures to curtail the spread of the virus in the population. This he said was imperative given that the island had seen an almost 50% increase in its population in the past week due to the hosting of the festival.

Their full letters follow.


Letter from Leader of the Opposition Paul Lewis.

Dear Hon Premier,

The Government of Montserrat, in the interest of public safety, have taken the decision to prevent public gatherings of more than 50 persons, along with the closing of schools for a specific period. The Ministry of Health in a recent press release informed the public of the investigation into a suspected case of COVID 19. These recent actions would naturally trigger concerns and questions from the public.

There are obvious serious implications presented by the threat of the Coronavirus COVID- 19.

The negative implications, along with the safety of the people must be taken into consideration, as we take a holistic look at the situation.

The Government of Montserrat must immediately make representation to the British Government to assist with compensation for residents and businesses due to the far-reaching social and financial impact of COVID-19.

The abrupt ending of the St Patrick’s Festival will also have consequences for the local economy due to the loss of such a great economic booster.

The closing of schools will require some parents to stay at home, away from work, but it is not clear who will pay those persons while they are absent from work. Clarification is immediately required for those persons who may have to be in self-isolation or in quarantine and cannot attend work.

There are associated hardships that will impact businesses, and also promoters who have lost heavily on their investments in the St Patrick’s Festival. Income from events has been lost, and jobs too have been lost. How will the Government move to assist these developments?

The Government must give assurance to the public of any representation it may have already made to the British Government to assist financially with compensation, and the Government must inform the people of Montserrat of the response from the British Government.

The British Government in its own budget presentation outlined its financial support to businesses and persons as a result of the negative impact of the COVID-19. Given Montserrat is an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom, the expectations are that Montserrat should be given priority to receive assistance from the UK during this global pandemic.

There are a number of questions about the state of readiness of the Government that was asked by the Opposition at least a month ago.

These questions still remain relevant and still require some answers.

What is the list of equipment the Government has purchased, or received otherwise to deal with the Coronavirus testing for symptoms, also testing to verify if positive or negative for the virus, and also caring for patients who show a positive result? Can you confirm if equipment on the list are on island and operational? If not when will they arrive?

We are all aware that there are challenges with the healthcare system on Montserrat. If Coronavirus were to become a reality here, has the Government made representation to the British Government for the Navy Hospital vessel, and their personnel to assist our local medical staff in coping with any potential COVID-19 outbreak?

In addition to those questions, for persons who are asked to self-isolate, or for those who will be quarantined for 14 days – including those exposed but have not shown any symptoms – who will compensate them for extending their airline tickets if this should take them beyond their initial return date to their places of abode? They will also incur other expenses and absence from work related issues. Does the government have a plan in place to address these matters?

We currently have students abroad studying at institutions such as the University of the West Indies. With the Coronavirus impacting classes and tuition delivery, what is the Government’s plan to ensure the well-being and protection of our students currently away from home in this time of deep uncertainty?

Government and employers are responsible for making sure all necessary preventative and protective measures and procedures are put in place at the workplace.

What is the Government’s plan in addressing effective infection prevention and control in Government owned workplaces towards the safeguarding of occupational health and safety within the workplace?

I look forward towards receiving a comprehensive response to the issues raised, and an outline of the Government’s plan of action going forward.

Truly,

Hon Paul J. Lewis
Leader of The Opposition


Letter from Member of the Legislative Assembly and former premier Donaldson Romeo.

Hon Premier,

I listened to your statement on the radio yesterday which was certainly a step in the right direction.

The unfortunate thing is that just before your statement, ZJB was airing advertisements for events which undoubtedly will attract vastly more than 50 persons.  Also nowhere in your statement did you explicitly refer to the cancellation of the St Patrick’s Day events.  I encourage you to have a press release which outlines more accurately and completely the impact of the decisions the Government has made since Covid-19 began to spread and may yet have to make.

Given that we do not have in place adequate critical care facilities and don’t seem to have been screening travelers, the message needs to get out there, especially to Antiguans and Montserratians still planning to come to Montserrat for the festive season. Governments in the outside world, especially Antigua, need to know that we are serious about addressing the corona virus threat.  If not, they may more quickly close their borders to us.

I am pleased to hear that the 80 plus Montserratian passengers who traveled on the British Airways flight 2157 are advised to self-isolate at home.  This is certainly another step in the right direction.  I trust that there has been adequate explanation and information given to the 80 plus passengers as to what to expect and how to reach out for further help if necessary, and not just be told to self-isolate at home.

However, I am afraid that there needs to be a significantly greater measure taken to contain and prevent the possible spread of the Corona Virus than is being stated.

In order to make the more drastic decisions that will enable us to contain the virus it may be wise that you advise all Montserratians on island to stay at home over the couple days while the Government takes that time to plan for the actions to address the impact of those more drastic decisions which you must be contemplating right now. 

Attached is a shortened section of a documentary by 60 Minutes, Australia on the Corona virus matter which undoubtedly helps to explain why Governments and businesses around the world are taking drastic measures to contain its spread.  The full video is at https://youtu.be/Y7nZ4mw4mXw. I recommend that you view this short clip attached which highlights the last six minutes of the documentary. 

Needless to say, I and many in our community are very concerned about the way in which this Pandemic corona virus threat is being handled at our borders and in general by our Government in partnership with His Excellency the Governor.  I am particularly concerned for the health and lives of the elderly and vulnerable who are most at risk. 

The video’s contents show why Montserrat — with its very limited resources and especially inadequate hospital and medical care facilities — needs to take fairly drastic measures; especially in light of the recent March 10 BA flight issue.  Added to that, in the past week and a half alone we may have increased our population by over 50% through incoming visitors.  I doubt that any other country in the world has had such an influx of visitors (in proportion to their resident population) from countries and cities where cases of the corona virus has been confirmed. 

Surely, both the HMG/Government and People of Montserrat must be acting as if the virus is already here and not as if “Antigua is a buffer” or that the virus is “getting closer and closer” as you stated this morning.  Unless of course the strategy is to let the situation, as is allowed, run its course to permit those who are likely to get sick and recover to do so and those who are weak to die out, thus finally illuminating the threat of the virus.

I have further and more specifically addressed the areas of concern as well given my suggestions in the attached.

Best regards,

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