The Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport VWS is assisting with additional healthcare personnel, coronavirus COVID-19 test material and the booster vaccination campaign.
New Minister of VWS Ernst Kuipers stated this in an extensive letter to the Dutch Parliament with a general update on the COVID-19 situation. The letter contains a short chapter about the Caribbean part of the Kingdom.
The number of COVID-19 infections in the Dutch Caribbean has been rapidly increasing since the end of 2021, with a high incidence – the number of positively tested persons per 100,000 inhabitants – on all six islands due to the Omicron variant. The minister noted that for the first time, St. Eustatius and Saba also are dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak.
“Based on analyses, it is clear that on all islands the current surge in COVID-19 cases can be traced back to the holidays. The mix of a new, highly contagious variant with returning residents and increased tourism have resulted in the introduction of the Omicron variant and subsequently the fast spreading of the virus among the population,” stated Kuipers.
Even though fewer patients have been admitted to hospital, pressure on healthcare institutions is still great due to the high number of infections among personnel. This has been especially the case in Curaçao and St. Eustatius.
For this reason, the Ministry of VWS has arranged additional medical personnel for the Curaçao Medical Center (CMC) and for St. Eustatius. Said personnel have arrived on the islands and started their work.
Laboratories and Public Health Departments on the islands are also facing issues. Source and contact investigation by the Public Health Departments is no longer optimal and laboratories are being overrun by the large numbers of persons who need to be tested.
According to Kuipers, St. Maarten has switched from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to antigen tests due to the high testing pressure. The Ministry of VWS has made additional testing material available to mitigate this issue.
In Saba and St. Eustatius, the acute need for testing resulted in a serious shortage of PCR tests. As a result, the Ministry of VWS sent additional testing capacity to the two smaller islands. “This has solved the test issue for now,” stated Kuipers.
All islands took measures after the holidays to contain the spread of COVID-19. Saba and St. Eustatius scaled up to risk level two, meaning that face masks are now mandatory in public spaces, and opening hours and group sizes have been limited. In St. Eustatius, people can only go to restaurants for take-out.
The other islands also implemented stricter measures in the form of longer nightly curfews and earlier closing hours for bars and restaurants. In St. Maarten, the closing time for nightlife was set at 11:00pm.
Kuipers noted that the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and the Ministry of VWS remained in contact with the islands about the measures, the availability of healthcare and testing capacity, and progress regarding the vaccination and booster campaign.
In his letter, the minister also gave an update on the vaccination campaign in the Dutch Caribbean. Since the vaccination campaign started on the islands in February 2021, more than 480,000 vaccines were administered on all six islands combined.
St. Maarten still has the lowest vaccination rate with 40 per cent of the total population being fully vaccinated, followed by St. Eustatius with 46 per cent. In Curaçao and Aruba, fully vaccinated percentages are respectively 59 and 56. In Bonaire, the percentage is 64 and in Saba, 82 – the highest of all the islands.
In order to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant and to keep the number of hospital admissions low, the Public Health Departments on the islands are making the booster vaccination as accessible as possible for the population while emphasising the importance of getting a booster vaccination.
So far, of the fully vaccinated persons ages 18 and up, 32 per cent received a booster vaccination in Curaçao, 15 per cent in Aruba, 24 per cent in St. Maarten, 33 per cent in Bonaire, 31 per cent in St. Eustatius and 63 per cent in Saba.
Curaçao and Aruba have asked the Ministry of VWS for assistance with the execution of their booster campaigns. The Ministry of VWS has agreed to provide this assistance which takes place in consultation with the Public Health Departments in the two countries.
The Daily Herald.