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By Theresa Goodwin

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Noted medical professional Dr Joseph “Joey” John has warned of an imminent collapse of the entire healthcare system if the protocols to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus are not followed.

The consultant surgeon issued the stark warning during a state media interview on Monday night.

“Right now, there are over 50 cases, probably going on 60 cases of people being hospitalised in Antigua. Eight people were on ventilators just this past weekend; that is a break-neck situation for the hospital. Beyond that they will not be able to cope,” he warned.

“In my opinion we are going to move beyond that soon. It is so very important that we get really, really drastic and not only tighten up on some of the measures, but to some extent change course.”

The latest dashboard published by the Ministry of Health on February 15 revealed that Antigua and Barbuda has recorded a total of 443 confirmed cases of the virus, of which 229 are active.

Forty-one persons are receiving care at the hospital and nine deaths are on record so far since the start of the pandemic last March.

The recent increase in infection rates forced the government to tighten up restrictions and protocols.

As of Tuesday, the curfew hours shifted from 8pm to 5am to 6pm to 5am and will remain in effect until at least March 15. Gatherings are now limited to five people with the exception of church services, funerals and weddings which remain at 25.

The restrictions followed an emergency Cabinet meeting on Monday to address what government has deemed continued defiance on the part of some residents.

Dr John stressed that, based on the current pattern, hospitalisations in Antigua and Barbuda will increase, and policymakers and residents “have but one last shot” to get things right.

He said it will also take the cooperation of not just the government, but also the involvement of the business community. The medical professional acknowledged that success in curtailing virus spread will be heavily dependent on the personal behaviour of every citizen.

Dr John emphasised the need for people to remain indoors and only venture out if it is “absolutely necessary”.

He also suggested that business owners examine their operations to determine whether or not some employees could work from home, thus lessening the number of people in the working environment at any given time.

The business sector, he said, could also assist where testing of employees is concerned.

“We cannot expect the government to test everybody on a recurrent basis; that is just too expensive. I think that is where companies are going to have to step up and take some of that responsibility and test people who are working with them on a recurrent basis. What that does is to weed out anybody that becomes positive right away,” Dr John said.

He is optimistic that these measures could assist in curbing local infections, however it has to be done as part of a unified approach.