By Machela Osagboro
The general reaction from members of the public soon after Prime Minister Gaston Browne confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Antigua and Barbuda, late Friday morning, was that they were trusting God to protect them from the virus which has affected thousands of people globally.
“It is my unfortunate duty to advise you that our country has recorded our first confirmation of someone who has contracted the coronavirus,” Browne announced.
“On March 10, a passenger arrived from the United Kingdom aboard a British Airways plane, went directly to her mother’s home and on March 11 she visited a private medical facility. We took the required samples and sent them to CARPHA [Caribbean Public Health Agency]. The following day, the positive results of the test were returned to Antigua and Barbuda.”
The prime minister assured the public that the patient’s mother and other persons were tested yesterday to ensure that no one else had contracted the virus. Additionally, Browne said that the patient and her parent will be kept in isolation to be treated.
After the announcement, which appeared to take many residents by surprise, OBSERVER media took to the streets to get the reaction of the public.
Many people were observed walking through St John’s, wearing face masks, and gloves, while some shared that they had Lysol sprays in their bags, which indicated that there was some level of public preparedness.
The people were surprisingly calm and many said they were aware of what they needed to do to keep themselves safe.
“My action plan is to get the mask, the hand sanitizer and gloves, get plenty of packed food because you know when the place lock down you need food; and get your immune system up,” one man said.
An animated elderly man declared: “Now you have to turn to God. All the sanitizer them a talk ‘bout, set you to spend money.”
He also commented about the lack of running water on island and the importance of having this commodity to prevent the spread of the virus. “Dem ah tell you fi wash yuh hand, but where is the water from the pipe to wash your hand?” he asked
Meantime, a store clerk reported that the public has been streaming in to buy supplies and that there has been a mad rush since the news broke, saying” “They have been looking for the mask, the gloves and hand sanitizer; they have been going crazy.”
OBSERVER also visited a supermarket where steady streams of people were shopping for food items, tissue, water, canned goods and rubbing alcohol, among other items.
Taxi drivers at Heritage Quay stated that, “we are cleaning our vans, and tourists who come into our van, we ask them which country they are coming from and we show them the stuff we have in the van, like gloves. So, we do not shake tourists’ hands”.
They were of the opinion that while most people should be concerned, the public must not blow the situation out of proportion.
Meanwhile, most of the stores at Heritage Quay have placed hand sanitizers at the entrances and patrons are not allowed enter if they do not use the sanitizer. Additionally, the stores are equipped with timers, which alert them that it’s time to sanitize the store.
During a press conference yesterday, the Ministry of Health confirmed urged the public to take every precautionary measure necessary. “We have been preparing for this possibility for weeks and implementing necessary measures for early detection and diagnosis and, at this time, there is no evidence of the virus spreading at the community level,” Minister of Health, Molwyn Joseph said.