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St. Maarten: COVID-19 ‘contained, neutralised’, EOC now deactivated

The successful “containment and neutralisation” of the coronavirus in St. Maarten has led to the deactivation of the country’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and the bringing forward of the implementation of Phase 3 of the country’s de-escalation measures from today, Monday, to Saturday last.

EOC Chairperson Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs announced the deactivation during a national address over the weekend.

She said during a full EOC meeting on Friday, May 29, together with some members of the Council of Ministers and key Emergency Support Function (ESF) coordinators, it was decided to de-activate the EOC as authorities has not had to backtrack at any time in its de-escalation process, and as Phase 3 of the reopening of the country has begun.

“As a matter of fact, Phase 3 has been accelerated and started… Saturday – and we are now entering the stage of economic recovery for St. Maarten. Additionally, the EOC and Council of Ministers agree that the spread of the COVID-19 has now been contained and neutralised. As we transition into our ‘new normal’, the responsibility of each ministry now lies in the hands of the respective ministers to ensure that there is no reoccurrence of a second wave of the COVID-19.”

On March 23, government began closing its borders to minimise the impact and effects of COVID-19 which was known to be an imported virus. “However, at the end of the day, we were able to contain and crush COVID-19 in a relatively short period of time of two months.”

Based on the latest available data provided by Collective Prevention Services’ (CPS’) epidemiologist Dr. Raissa Tjon-Kon-Fat, as of 4:00pm, on May 29, there were 60 persons in self-quarantine, eight individuals in self-isolation; 461 tested, of which 77 were positive, 380 were negative, and three tests are still pending. Of the 77 positive cases, 60 have recovered.

Jacobs said St. Maarten has only had one positive case in the last 33 days, and no new cases in the last 20 days which is almost three weeks. Presently, there are two active cases in St. Maarten.

As of May 29, there were no COVID-19 suspected or confirmed patients admitted to St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC), including the Mobile Medical Pavilion (MMP) and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) tent. St. Maarten currently has about 900 samples of antibodies’ tests (PCR tests), and authorities look forward as soon as labs have certified this process, that this will also continue and more information about this will be provided by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA.

“In the coming days, St. Maarten is expected to be free of COVID-19. To arrive at this point, it was imperative that we were forced to take stringent and decisive measures of closing down our economy. Flights, cruise ships, vessels, etc. were no longer allowed to enter St. Maarten, for visitors nor for residents. In addition, to prevent and minimise the problem, we also had to go towards a complete lockdown of our domestic economy by not allowing businesses to be open, besides the essential services. We are slowly allowing residents and visitors to re-enter under very strict conditions,” Jacobs said.

“These measures, although not popular, were necessary in order to bend or flatten the curve. However, these measures proved to be successful at the end of the day. Naturally, one of the major consequences of COVID-19, throughout the world, is that our interdependence and reliance upon each other have shown how vulnerable, reliant, and dependent we are upon each other as a small economic society.”

She said the combination of taking public-health measures to protect the country and the economic impact of closing the economy, internationally and domestically, has resulted in a win for the health side of St. Maarten, but a loss for the economic side of the equation. This is and has been true for all countries going through this dilemma currently on a worldwide basis, and some are still going through it.

Changes to Phase 3

The EOC had advised and the Council of Ministers decided that movement should be allowed on Saturday, May 30, and that the curfew hours be adjusted to 11:00pm until 5:00am. Additionally, businesses will be allowed to open on Sunday as well, in accordance with the Ministerial Regulation signed on May 29, implementing the changes to Phase 3 which was moved up to Saturday, May 30.

Jacobs said while she knew many persons had been wondering, she had to make sure the publishing of the ministerial regulation was done first, which was published on Saturday. She said it is still the prerogative of residents to do their shopping and other essential services from Monday to Saturday even though some places will be opening prior to the lockdown on a Sunday.

“I believe we have learned a lot of lessons through this COVID-19 reality and the value of family and spending as much time as possible together should remain our focus even as we move forward in reopening our businesses.”

She urged residents to continue to use their good judgment in order to remain safe and to continue to practise proper mask usage; remain socially distanced when in public: keeping two metres or six feet away from other persons; wash hands often with soap and water; cover cough in a proper manner; sneeze in a napkin and dispose of it; and limit physical contact (handshaking, hugging, kissing).

“I believe that we have learned some key messages from this experience and naturally, it has revealed some secrets to success for any future developments…. We have learned that going forward we all, as a community, must plan and prepare for the future, and we know now we are facing the start of the hurricane season. So, preparations will be key to our survival. It is imperative that the measures and the guidelines that have been put into place for your safety continue to be followed.”

“The measures of social distancing, wearing of masks (especially when social distancing is not possible), and the frequent handwashing and/or sanitising. These measures are what has brought our COVID-19 situation under control and it is the continuation of these practices – and even if someone returns and is infected – [that – Ed.] will keep it from spreading to others. We really would like to see that we can reopen out the economy and still maintain a COVID-19 free St. Maarten.”

She thanked the 11 ESF coordinators, their support teams, Disaster Coordinator Clive Richardson, the EOC Back Office, as well as Governor Eugene Holiday, Public Prosecutor M. Mol, and the Dutch Military for their unwavering commitment in shaping the decisions that enabled St. Maarten to collectively contain the spread of COVID-19. She also thanked her support staff for their tireless efforts in ensuring that she was equipped to take all the necessary decisions and communicate them to the public.

“The Council of Ministers have been diligently preparing for the recovery stage for some time now and will continue to build upon the exceptional work of the EOC and their support teams who, as they of course, form part of the mistrial teams as well. We must move from our disaster mode to recovery mode.”

“COVID-19 has impacted in particular, tourism-based economies the most and throughout the world, St. Maarten being no exception to this rule. Tourism economies are still very much dependent on the health situation of other countries’ COVID-19 to be under control before we can feel comfortable opening our borders to the world and traveling public. A multi-disciplinary group from the EOC will also continue to remain available to the Council of Ministers should they require additional advice.”

She urged the private sector to take the initiative and lead to looking for ways to produce locally and/or export the goods made in St. Maarten or export services. This will and is urgently needed to sustain, protect, and safeguard the economy and livelihood.

The Daily Herald.

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