The sudden spike in positive Covid-19 cases has presented what is undisputedly one of the most challenging periods for the Government of Grenada, since the first positive case was detected in March this year.
The reality of the current situation is one of great concern and the Ministry of Health is continuing an aggressive approach to testing, contact tracing, quarantining and monitoring to ensure that the transmission of the disease is not proliferated beyond the bounds of our ability to contain it.
Since the detection of the cluster and our rigorous contact tracing efforts, more than 1,500 people have been tested, using PCR tests which are widely acclaimed as the “gold standard” for detecting the novel coronavirus. These efforts are continuing and the results for 200 tests are still pending and we will update those numbers as necessary, in the coming days. Since the start of the pandemic in Grenada 18,000 PCR tests have been conducted. The Government stands by the accuracy of these PCR tests, the results of which are accepted regionally and internationally.
To date, the number of active cases in Grenada, stands at 45. Comparatively, this number may seem small, but in our local context, it is alarming. The fact is, in the last week, Grenada has literally experienced a doubling of the number of positive Covid-19 cases recorded from mid-March to early December. At the same time, this spike provides a very timely but sobering reminder that speaks to the true magnitude of possible infections when the protocols are not followed.
We have been fortunate thus far that most of the previously diagnosed and current cases are asymptomatic, meaning they are not showing any symptoms. However, one person has now developed pneumonia and another has developed other complications. Thankfully, they do not yet require hospitalisation and our health professionals are providing all medical interventions possible to aid in recovery. All other active cases continue to be closely monitored for the development of symptoms and similar medical interventions will be provided as necessary.
Covid-19 has left an astounding death toll in its wake – 1.6 million people worldwide. Daily news reports show these numbers climbing steadily, including some of our fellow citizens in the diaspora. We have not yet experienced any Covid-related deaths here in Grenada, but we must accept that this remains a very real possibility. As such, our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been afflicted and we continue to take all necessary measures to preserve life.
The Prime Minister indicated a few days ago in his national address, that Government has not opted for a national lockdown in the first instance but this does not lessen the gravity of the situation. While I can assure you tonight that this is still not a consideration, the Prime Minister will address the nation on Monday night to speak to the additional measures that have become necessary as we seek to further contain the spread of the virus and keep the population safe.
In the meantime, businesses are encouraged to start adjusting their operating hours this weekend, allowing staff to get home to their families earlier and reducing the need for persons to be on the roads late at night. I want to reiterate the Prime Minister’s assurances here that there is no need for panic-buying and undue anxiety – a 24-hour lockdown is not on the cards for the immediate future.
I take this opportunity to remind you that current containment measures include no more than 10 persons at weddings and funerals, no “happy hour” after funerals, takeout and delivery services only by restaurants. We must continue to minimise opportunities for exposure as human contact is what facilitates the spread of this deadly disease.
According to the scientific definition of community spread, the present situation cannot be classified as such. The majority of cases identified in the recent spike can be traced back to the cluster, in addition to a few other imported cases, detected through testing on day 4 of quarantine, subsequent to arrival here.
Health officials will continue to closely follow the science and to be guided by the epidemiology of the disease. Our recommended guidelines remain in full effect. The key pillars of our strategy continue to be testing before arrival, testing on day 4 of quarantine, a quarantine period of 14 days for those who have been exposed to a positive case and retesting of positive cases to determine medical clearance.
No manual exists for combatting this crisis. The fluidity of the pandemic means we are building local capacity as we respond. We are learning from the experiences of other countries and through consultation with stakeholders, we are implementing the strategies that are deemed most appropriate. Even so, today’s solution could very well be, tomorrow’s problem, therefore we need to maintain a level of agility to manoeuver our way through this pandemic. Through constant review and evaluation, we acknowledge where there have been gaps in protocols and ascertain ways to continually strengthen the process of mitigating against any further outbreak of Covid-19.
The existence of this cluster has necessitated a review of the “corridor” arrangement which is in place for 3 hotels, of which Sandals Grenada was one. While it is instructive to note that that the same operational guidelines applied to all 3, there has been no indication of breaches at the other 2 properties. From the wealthiest to the poorest visitor or national arriving in Grenada, everyone is required to have a negative PCR test. The only variation was their mode of transportation, be it private, first class or economy travel. In addition to the negative PCR test in the required timeframe, all were screened the same way on arrival, and placed either in quarantine or corridor facilities. There has been no instance of any person being granted permission to enter the country with a positive PCR test.
We are seriously now reconsidering the “corridor” arrangement because clearly, any misstep in that process, any deviation from the recommended and agreed upon protocols, can jeopardise the health and safety of our own citizens and by extension their families and the communities at large.
We cannot escape the fact that managing the Covid-19 pandemic remains a delicate balancing act between protecting lives and saving livelihoods but by the same token, the value of any human life, far outweighs the financial worth of any livelihood. Going forward, Government will continue to put the welfare of all citizens first.
Critical to the success of that strategy however, is the level of public compliance with the recommended protocols. Regardless of the threat that emerges, the number of positive cases we identify, there are scientifically proven methods that reduce an individual’s chances of contracting the disease. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to wear our masks appropriately, covering both our nose and mouth, maintaining the recommended social distance, sanitising frequently and avoiding large gatherings. As these all speak to individual choices, I urge one and all to be guided accordingly; the disease is present in our midst yes, but ultimately, it is our individual behaviour that will determine the level of exposure we personally face.
These are unprecedented times, we have never before faced a crisis like this. As leaders we must take all aspects into consideration, the advice of the epidemiologists on this virus specifically and what needs to be done to control it; those with experience in national security in measures that can be enforced and monitored; the legal advisors on what the constitution permits; our religious sector for spiritual guidance and most importantly, our people with respect to what their expectations, limitations and tolerances are. As such, I cannot stress enough that successful management of the Covid-19 pandemic requires a truly collaborative effort. This is not a time for the divisiveness of politics, religion or any other factor that identifies our social differences. This is a time for all hands to be on deck, fighting the same battle, with the common goal of protecting the lives of all the citizens of our country. This is a time of partnership and collaboration, not agenda-driven acts of destablisation.
In the past few days, we have seen the panic and fear caused by false reporting, including reports of false positive tests. We have said that this is categorically untrue, but there are some who continue to perpetuate those stories. This has led to breakdowns in quarantine compliance; which, in turn, puts us all at further risk. Moreover, it is damaging to the psyche of affected individuals.
Factual information is crucial in managing a crisis, and this is a crisis. The sharing of timely, accurate and verified information helps to maintain public confidence. The Government of Grenada places tremendous value on keeping the public abreast of developments as they relate to the pandemic. The news is not always good but we enlighten you nonetheless. The Ministry of Health, through the Government Information Service is always the official source of information. I make an appeal here, for persons to desist from spreading misinformation.
That said, the level of misinformation shared in relation to the detection of the cluster of great concern to us. But of greater importance at this point, is the well-being of the staff of the resort who have been affected, their families and other persons they have been in contact with. Therefore, our empathy, our feelings of compassion extend to them at this critical juncture. Once sufficiently managed, we can then turn our attention to the breaches which occurred with respect to Grenada’s Covid-19 protocols. I reiterate here that while Government must maintain the delicate balance between lives and livelihoods, the value of a human life simply cannot be compared.
Rest assured that the Ministry of Health will continue to strengthen its internal systems as we lead this ongoing fight against Covid-19. Our success depends on your compliance with the safety measures. For those in isolation or quarantine because of a positive test or exposure to someone who tested positive, your compliance is even more critical. The virus moves with people, and it only moves when affected individuals move. If you have tested positive or have been exposed to the virus and you do not move from your yard space for the mandatory 14 days or upon medical clearance, then there is no way you can infect others in the wider community.
It is possible to contain the spread of Covid-19 here in Grenada but we will only successfully do so, if we all do our part. In closing, I express profound gratitude to all frontline personnel – our community health nurses, customs and immigration staff at the ports of entry, district medical officers, lab technicians and all others who are critical to this response effort. The Government and people of Grenada value your work, we appreciate you and we take very strong offence to anyone who seeks to discredit the work that you are doing for your country. Our border control policies are sound and our testing mechanisms have been approved by regional health authorities. We stand together in the fight against Covid-19, together, we will get through this.