The five cases of COVID-19 is the equivalent to 70,000 cases in the UK if you consider comparative populations, said Governor Andrew Pearce as the government announced more stringent measures to curb the spread of the disease on island.
In a live press conference conducted via Zoom and aired on ZJB Radio Montserrat, Premier Easton Taylor-Farrell said it was necessary to increase controls as since the 10-hour curfew was put in place last Friday, there have been breaches. In addition, eight more samples have been sent off to the regional medical laboratory for testing.
The Cabinet of Montserrat has agreed that as of 6PM on Saturday, March 28, Montserrat will go into a 24-hour curfew until April 14, 2020. Only one person per household will be able to venture out to conduct business at a time. Even these trips should be limited to reduce the exposure to others.
The ferry and airport are closed to all income visitors except for Montserratians, medical practitioners coming to assist the Ministry of Health, and for transport of essential materials.
Premier Taylor-Farrell said a financial package has been presented to the UK government for support for businesses and residents. He cautioned that the government will be unable to completely cover all losses and aimed to alleviate suffering where possible. He was hopeful that the UK would be willing to provide added financial support.
The financial secretary has been instructed to roll out a first tranche of support to the most vulnerable, said the premier. There is presently no timeline on when residents and businesses will begin to receive access to the aid. The Trade division is working to collect figures on affected businesses.
Governor Pearce indicated that for the new budget year, the UK government was adding 80 million Eastern Caribbean dollars. They were also more willing to be flexible on the draw down of the money given the current crisis.
He said the pandemic was unprecedented in modern history and everyone needed to pull together and comply with the lock down.
Deputy Premier Dr Samuel Joseph said it was important to recognise that the government was now at the end of its financial budget cycle in March. He reminded all that Montserrat does not have the ability to borrow funds as other independent countries do and they are also not able to run deficits. Tough decisions have to be made. We have cut programmes to allocate money to where it is needed most, health and people in need, he added.
Montserrat will need much more than it can scrape together as March 31 draws near. A request has been sent to the UK for additional support and the island’s ability to provide assistance will be dependent on their response.
He reiterated the need for everyone to eliminate unnecessary contact. Dead people can’t spend money, he admonished. The isolation was a necessary measure to let the people do their work and find the cases in order to curb the spread and get it under control over the next two to three weeks.
“It will drain the country of its finances and resources and our ability to respond if it drags on,” Minister Joseph said.
It has been 11 days since Montserrat announced its first case and the island is now at five.
Nineteen samples have been sent off and according to Minister of Health Charles Kirnon, more positive cases could be expected. He urged the public to heed the instructions to stay at home and keep trusting God to get us through this.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Sharra Greenaway-Duberry said the closure of the local and regional ports does not affect the dispatch of testing samples to the regional lab in Trinidad. They are currently awaiting the results of eight more tests sent off today.
Governor Pearce said the demand for equipment to deal with crisis is high and the UK government is working down the list of needs from the Overseas Territories. Acquiring some of the needs is extremely difficult but the priority requests of more PPE and testing equipment are on the way. He said he would like everyone, including the police and defence force to have more personal protective equipment reserves and they are working to strengthen this position in days and weeks ahead.
Education & Social Services
Students who depend on the lunch programme in the local schools will be rolled into other social service programmes to ensure they continue to receive daily meals, Permanent Secretary in Education Lyston Skerritt said.
A group of volunteers has been identified to ensure that anyone reliant on public food programmes, including Meals on Wheels will still receive support now that they are encouraged to stay at home.
As it relates to students expected to take regional exams this May, PS Skerritt said the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) had made a decision about testing without the consensus of the member states. Some of the changes will be a challenge for Montserrat to implement, however they are working to prepare students as best as possible.
Montserrat Community College is currently delivering classes via Zoom and Google Classroom.
The Montserrat Secondary School is looking at online delivery for students in the lower forms. Currently the Ministry of Education is in discussions to acquire a software in collaboration with CXC and Flow for delivering elearning to students from primary to A Levels. This will need to be tempered with the knowledge that some students may not have internet at home or a device.
Parents are asked to call MSS on 496-1671 via WhatsApp to get information on student assignments. They can also be reached via email at email@example.com.
The primary schools have already begun to provide printed packages for students as well as online resources. Parents should check with the school and the relevant social media pages to find updates on how to obtain school work for their child.
Minister of Agriculture Crenston Buffonge, who was also on the live streamed press conference, asked for everyone to stay at home, acknowledging it was not an ideal situation but necessary to stop the virus spread. He said this was a good time for homeowners to help themselves by starting a backyard garden. To this end, his ministry is increasing preparation of seedlings so residents can acquire them to start a garden.
He added that his government was committed to finding solutions for any inconvenience the public is going through but asked for patience and compliance with the curfew and other restrictions.
Watch a replay here…