The no-nonsense tone of Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, in pleading with St. Maarteners to take social distancing seriously in the fight against the new coronavirus COVID-19, has gone viral on Twitter, and was featured most notably on CBS News, Buzzfeed News and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
In the national address of April 1, Prime Minister Jacobs expressed frustration with people not respecting social distancing rules. Residents were still hanging out at bars, barber shops and salons. Some people that were under quarantine, mostly residents that flew in from abroad, were still leaving their homes, she said.
American leaders: C’mon everybody, please stay inside. It’s important.
The Caribbean: pic.twitter.com/oopMyRT0lG
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) April 9, 2020
After a month of “pleading, begging and asking” the population to be careful and safe, she said that at times, a “tough, hard exterior” is needed “for people to listen.” She ended the address with what is now on television: “…simply stop moving. If you do not have the type of bread you like in your house, eat crackers. If you do not have bread, eat cereal. Eat oats. Sardines. You’re supposed to have a two week supply for hurricane, and at the beginning of this I said ‘prepare your disaster kit as you would for a hurricane’.”
St. Maarten’s DJ Big Boss wasted no time in making a carnival-worthy remix using the snippet of video, which was widely shared locally and featured on The Shade Room’s Instagram just a few days later. This post has by now garnered almost two million views.
Twitter user Clinq shared the same snippet, which has garnered 1.2million views as of this morning, with the caption “Caribbean leadership is very ‘straight to the point’.”
The vast majority of the comment section showed support for her direct stance, some Caribbean diaspora comparing it to the tone of their mothers when they ‘mean business.’
At least five more news networks around the world have picked up on the story, as it begins to make the rounds today. “I just love this woman and I think we can all take a lesson from Madame Jacobs,” Gayle King said on CBS This Morning. “She’s terrific, I love it. She ain’t playin’!”
While the world understands the pandemic, what is not conveyed in the less-than-a-minute snippet, is the dilemma faced by the Prime Minister, who urgently needed to implement restrictions, while wanting to keep stores open. St. Maarten Medical Center was already at capacity, having just two ventilators/ ICU beds.
At the time, it looked like reinforcement from the Netherlands was another two weeks away, while it was already evident that the disease was being transmitted locally. There were well over 100 people showing symptoms in isolation, and a limited number of testing kits available.
Only on that day, had local testing become a possibility. Prior to that, the waiting time started taking up to four days, as the testing facilities in Guadeloupe and the Netherlands were also becoming burdened by the task, she explained in the national address.
“You are the only ones that can help us to flatten the curve,” she pleaded, asking residents to respect government’s measures and take personal responsibility in helping to mitigate the spread of the disease.
Jacobs was nearly brought to tears during the same address, as she talked about the first suspected COVID-19 death, which happened the day before. “I pray that the family will find courage… and understands the limitations of the St. Maarten government to handle an outbreak of this proportion.
“As we look around the world, we see that the death rates are mounting. And with more positive cases, especially if it touches our vulnerable groups, we can also expect that our death rate may rise. Our partners on the French side also experienced two deaths… this is not an easy time for anyone.”
The Daily Herald