CASTRIES, St. Lucia – The St. Lucia government has defended its decision to seek a four-month extension of the state of emergency (SOE) saying it allows for the authorities to move swiftly between phases especially as the coronavirus (COVID-19) virus evolves.
“This would not be possible under normal circumstances. We can plan and be prepared for COVID-19 but all of us who watch the international news will observe that this virus is ever changing and we need to adapt accordingly. Therefore our state of readiness today may be very different next week depending on the effects of its impact,” Prime Minister Allen Chastanet told legislators.
Chastanet said that having examined the actions of countries in the Caribbean and internationally, it is clear that an SOE is the best mechanism in securing timely and seamless execution of protocols and guidelines.
He said that a SOE “is no small matter” and comes as a result of a declaration by government in response to an extraordinary situation posing a fundamental threat to the country.
“In our case, we face two fundamental threats; a pandemic and secondly the risk of a financial/economic crisis. It remains one of the most, if not the most effective mechanisms in dealing with events which pose a fundamental threat to a country and it reminds us all to remain vigilant.”
Chastanet likened the virus to a hurricane “like no other that we have faced in this region.
“It has the potential to wipe out entire nations and cripple economies if not managed properly. Like a hurricane, the best chance of survival is to prepare. A state of emergency for the next four months will allow us to continue to implement and adequately monitor the effectiveness of the measures we have put in place, and to make quick adjustments as required.”
He said that the government has been responsible in its actions under the Emergency Powers Act, adding “every time we amended or adjusted any part of the Act, every single time we put a new measure in place, we reported and informed the people of St. Lucia.
“We explained why, every step of the way. The recordings, videos and constant reporting is available for all to see. The simple fact is the State of Emergency allows us to move swiftly between phases especially as the virus evolves. This would not be possible under normal circumstances.”
He said the government has confidence in the five -phase approach to reopening the society.
“The simplicity of this plan is that it is designed to remain fluid to allow government to respond to COVID-19 and its impact in a very methodical way. The foundation of this phased approach is structured on the preservation of our physical and mental health, safety and the general wellbeing of our people through robust social, healthcare, security and economic measures.”
But he cautioned that moving from one phase to another or reverting to a previous phase would depend on key identifiable triggers.
“Through the state of emergency powers this would allow the government to adequately implement measures and protocols under each phase. Currently, we are at cycle 3 of phase 3, our metrics are to be reviewed this week to finally determine whether we are on track to move into phase 4. “
Chastanet said that last week, the authorities having satisfied themselves that St. Lucia had met all the triggers for moving to the next phase of reopening the country, all businesses were allowed to resume and the necessary protocols were put in place.
“After much deliberation, consultation, and review of available data; a decision has been taken to open our borders come June 4th 2020. Our Government is currently in discussions with key stakeholders as it relates to the repatriation of St. Lucians from overseas, in particular the United States,” he said.
But he said he wanted to reassure St. Lucians locally that the decision to open the borders and to repatriate nationals from overseas has many conditions attached to it.
“We have engaged the airlines and are relying heavily on them to be very robust partners to ensure that there is a contaminant-free corridor between when a passenger leaves their country of origin to their arrival in St. Lucia.
“All people coming into St. Lucia will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hours of travel and strict measures of physical distancing will be enforced. Further, there will be enhanced monitoring at our ports as well as mandatory quarantine measures for people arriving.
“We, however, remain cautious that with such a reopening comes the dangers of possible spread of the virus. The entire world is grappling with how best to reopen. Economies are crashing, businesses are closing, thousands have become unemployed.”
Chastanet said the island has not been spared from this economic fallout.
“We cannot remain stagnant. We must be vigilant in our preparation for a new normal but must also be cognizant of the risks that lie ahead. We must have the capacity to trigger quick and appropriate responses in the implementation of new protocols and guidelines of operation within all sectors of society. To achieve this, we need to have effective monitoring and enforcement capabilities.”
But he also warned that as the government strives to reopen St. Lucia under a phased approach “we are guided by the rest of the world.
“With many countries in the world moving to reopen their borders and the waves of recurring infections, it is important that St. Lucia is able to react quickly by implementing the necessary measures to reduce and contain the spread of this virus. Essentially time to implement, review and react is of the essence.
“Despite our success thus far, and St. Lucia standing out as a leader in the region and the world, we cannot rest easy. As we look toward the future and our ‘new normal,’ we must remember what was effective in getting us to this point and what is needed to continue to stay the course to keep our communities and our loved ones safe.”
He insisted that by extending the SOE it would allow for the competent authority to act with immediate dispatch on the advisement of our health officials, resulting in the need to declare operational necessary measures.
“As a result,…this further extension of the State of Emergency is being sought to facilitate a quick response if another outbreak of COVID-19 occurs. The extension will also permit the continuance of the assistance provided by the Cuban Medical Team who is authorized to work only during the state of emergency, thereby strengthening the personnel capacities of the health sector during this volatile period,” Chastanet said, adding that the SOE would be extended from June 1, to September 30.
“As a government, we reassure the people of St. Lucia that we will constantly scrutinize the situation and our performance with the view to reducing the time frame if we continue to see positive trends. As we have been doing throughout this crisis, we will keep you informed always of any amendments.”