BES-Reporter writes that the Public Entity St. Eustatius will introduce its long-term COVID-19 strategy on January 3rd, 2022 by further opening up its borders and having a less strict entry policy in place. This is needed to recover the economy and the tourism sector to avoid an economic crisis in the medium and long run. The continuation of the new strategy will depend on the development of the new variant omicron.
Changing the COVID-19 strategy as of January 3rd, 2022 will open the possibility for the virus COVID-19 to enter the island. On this date, the current entry policy, the quarantine policy, and the monitoring protocol will become less strict.
The Public Health Department will focus its efforts on limiting the spread of the virus when it is detected on the island, thereby reducing the impact on public health in Statia. In the event of an outbreak, it will be controlled in such a way that the health care system can cope with it. The St. Eustatius Health Care Foundation (SHCF) has put measures in place and is well prepared to treat COVID-19 cases. The Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport (VWS) will assist Statia with additional resources in case this is needed.
Self-tests and wristbands will be introduced as extra measures. The introduction of self-tests is needed to be able to monitor the COVID-19 situation in schools and in the healthcare sector in case there is an outbreak. Wristbands will be made available for the persons that returned from abroad and will either go in quarantine or will fall under the monitoring protocol. The purpose of the wristbands it to have a better view of who is in quarantine and who is in monitoring.
The new strategy was presented and discussed with all key stakeholders such as the Island Council, Statia Business Association, Central Dialogue, school directors, the Tourism & Hospitality Sector, the Harbor, KNMAR, Police and the Airport. All parties agreed that Statia must further open up and replace the strategy of containment with the strategy of mitigation. A containment strategy involves keeping Statia partly closed, a strict entry policy and a strict quarantine or monitoring protocol for visitors and residents returning from abroad. “We cannot keep up with this strategy any longer, “says Government Commissioner Alida Francis. “The economic support packages and the social relief packages of the Dutch Ministries ended per October 1st, 2021. These packages were provided to help local businesses overcome the far-reaching consequences of the Covid 19-pandemic which would have otherwise caused a huge loss of income. ”
By not having these support packages in place anymore, she says, the local government must help the local businesses get back to “business as usual”. Francis: “This requires that we set in motion a plan that will help us to further balance economic activity while carefully managing public health.” The only way the Public Entity can do this, the government commissioner indicates, is by further opening the island.
Another reason to open up and thus change the strategy for Statia from containment to mitigation is that the current entry policy forms a barrier for returning tourism and business. “It is also a barrier for off-island trips for Statian residents, for medical treatment, for business and for leisure. The impact on our economy and our social life is simply too high; we cannot afford this any longer. And, we cannot wait until this pandemic is over.”
On the other hand, Francis says, the vaccination percentage has only reached approximately 40% of the population. “By opening up, we take the risk that Statians might get severely ill from COVID-19 and might even die.”
To avoid such a catastrophe, the Government Commissioner made a repeated call to get vaccinated and urges the Statian residents to take responsibility. “Vaccinating is your own choice, but it is proven to be the most effective method to protect yourself from severe illness or death should you contract COVID. I personally, as the Government Commissioner but also as a concerned Statian resident, ask each and everyone to take action. We as the Public Entity cannot do it alone. You must protect yourself”.
The Public Health Department indicated that the basic measures will not change: social distancing, wearing a facemask and hand hygiene. But besides this, Francis says, protect yourself and the community by limiting your contacts if the virus is on the island.