By Carl Joseph
Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced four new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday.
“We had our first confirmed case two weeks ago. Subsequently, two additional cases last week and, unfortunately, today four new cases, bringing the total to seven,” he declared in a national address on state media.
He confirmed that six of the seven cases have all been imported, and include a returning national who contracted it abroad. The seventh case, however, is the first instance of a person-to-person transmission of the virus in the country.
While the PM did not give further details on that, he confirmed that all seven individuals are in isolation and that the necessary contact tracing is underway.
“As our Covid numbers increase, tracking every person with whom each of them was in contact is close to impossible,” the PM warned.
To date, more than half a million people have contracted the virus worldwide and 24,000 have died.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the disease is mild in about 80 percent of cases, while around 14 percent of people develop severe illness and six percent become critical.
Severe illness and death is more common among the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
“Given the highly contagious nature of the virus, and the pattern elsewhere in the world, I expect that we will experience further community spread and contagion. That too is inescapable,” said Browne.
WHO analysis of Covid-19 indicates the probability of widespread community transmission is moderate if effective mitigation measures are in place, and very high in the absence of such. If mitigation measures are lifted suddenly and too early, a resurgence of cases is likely.
The prime minister admitted that the country’s dependence on trade, tourism and the “need to facilitate returning nationals, including students from abroad, made it virtually impossible to completely seal off our borders from the rest of the world”.
“Therefore, some visitor, or a national returning from abroad, was destined to bring the virus here,” the PM said.
Browne also renewed calls for residents to adhere to newly enacted policies which limit public gatherings to no more than 25 people, each standing six feet apart.
Continued violation of these policies could force the government “to impose certain additional restrictions on personal freedoms, to include a possible closure of nonessential businesses and even a curfew at short notice”.
This, Browne said, will be determined after further consultations with health officials.
In preparation for the possibility of an increase of Covid-19 among the local population, the Ministry of Health has been preparing for conditions to test, quarantine, isolate and treat patients.
“Within the past three weeks, we have spent in excess of $20 million to establish Covid testing, treatment and recovery facilities at the newly established Infectious Disease Centre, located at the former Holberton Hospital site,” the PM announced.
The facility, he said, will be fully operational next week.
An additional 35 ventilators have been ordered to add to the 25 already on island.
While pledging his best to keep the country’s economy afloat, the PM promised to “never compromise the health of the nation to save the economy”, while pledging to “continue to expand our healthcare capacity to manage this existential threat facing our people”.
“Zero fatalities from Covid,” Browne stated was one of the chief goals of the mitigation taskforce, but urged that the government cannot do it alone.
“The best solution to containing the virus and controlling community spread is through personal responsibility – I repeat, personal responsibility.
“As a nation, we cannot let Covid defeat us,” Browne vowed.