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By Gemma Handy

Hundreds of residents could become sick with the coronavirus within a fortnight in one scenario laid out by the Prime Minister as he pleaded with the public to help stem the infection rate.

Gaston Browne admitted yesterday that the nation’s health system would not cope with a deluge of critically ill patients.

It was a notable departure from previous addresses when he has urged people to remain calm – a stance he acknowledged may have inadvertently caused complacency.

Speaking at the first ever virtual meeting of Parliament, the PM said Antigua and Barbuda’s confirmed number of virus cases stands at seven.

But he warned Covid-19’s rapid-fire spread, as seen in countries across the globe, could soon be mirrored on home turf.

“I cannot overemphasise how deadly Covid is,” he said.

And while he had previously encouraged people not to panic, alluding to the high recovery rate, he added, “The reality is… it is an automatic death sentence for some. Some who contract it will become critically ill and will die. It is happening all over the world.”

To date, more than 800,000 people have contracted the virus since it was first detected in China in November. Almost 42,000 people have died while 177,000 have recovered.

“The spread of Covid does not happen in a linear way but exponentially,” he continued.

“For example, let’s say we have 10 cases now, to include unknown ones. …. 10 infections with an exponent of three is 10 times 10 times 10, which means that within a two-week period we could end up with 1,000 Covid cases.

“There is no way that… we could adequately treat the numbers of individuals who would become critically ill …. The reality is, we do not have enough ventilators,” Browne said.

Figures suggest 15 percent of people infected with the respiratory illness suffer severe or critical symptoms. Many require life-saving ventilation.

Government has already forked out more than $20 million to beef up health services in a bid to flatten the infection rate’s curve.

Still, the PM warned, the virus’s impact will likely be “devastating socially and economically”.

He reminded people there was still no vaccination or cure as he urged them to keep six feet apart and wear face masks.

The Prime Minister chided the “irresponsible behaviour” of those who continue to congregate in close circles.

From supermarkets to churches, and picnics to football matches, residents had defied social distancing policies intended to protect them, he said, triggering the need for the seven-day lockdown which starts at midnight tonight.

Asot Michael MP also addressed the “severe challenge” to the country’s health service which he warned “could be overwhelmed with too many cases too quickly”.

“There is no question that our healthcare system needs additional capacity for effective management and control of this pandemic – more doctors, more nurses, more testing equipment, special isolation units, more hospital beds, more ventilators, more personal protective equipment, adequate medical supplies, epidemiological surveillance systems to detect outbreaks at community level, quarantine facilities,” he told parliament.

Michael urged the private sector to establish a $50 million fund to help government “meet the burdensome cost” of battling the outbreak. “All those wealthy homeowners at Jumby Bay, Mill Reef, Galley Bay, and Jolly Harbour, who have enjoyed millions of dollars in tax concessions and relief over the years; all those business persons who have enjoyed very lucrative government contracts and, in some instances, monopolistic and exclusive government contracts, need now more than ever to step up to the plate and be good corporate citizens,” Michael added.

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