A statistical model of the unchecked spread of COVID-19 predicts that 85 percent of the Virgin Islands population would become infected, with more severe symptoms experienced by seniors and people with long-term conditions like diabetes. Therefore, we have a moral duty to help curb it by social distancing, handwashing, self-isolation and other preventative measures, possibly saving lives by supporting our healthcare system’s ability to cope.

Information sources

The government encourages us to seek factual information from trusted and reliable sources, such as its website, but swamping the public with news releases can be counterproductive, particularly since Government Information Services — at least in my experience — rarely responds to feedback or replies. There is also worrying evidence that the reliability and effectiveness of even those sources may have been compromised and that downright fake news is being circulated on social media.

Flow also sent me a text message, purportedly on behalf of the Health Emergency Operations Centre, stating that social distancing means keeping three to six feet between yourself and others, “especially if you have symptoms like a cough or fever.”

I was concerned that this message seemed to imply that it is okay for people with symptoms to be out in public as long as they practise social distancing, and so I tried to post a message to GIS on the government website to draw attention to it. I followed up with an email to two senior public officers. Neither message has been acknowledged.

Fake news

I mentioned previously a ludicrous claim on social media that the virus could be cured by a hairdryer. The assurance by the Ministry of Health and Social Development that no specific treatment exists has been further undermined by presumably intelligent, well-educated people passing on posts like one claiming there has been no death in Israel from COVID-19 because its population was taking a mixture of lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda.

Such claims are dangerous and have no basis in fact. The Israeli government has imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine for travellers and is trying to enforce a lockdown on a town with the second largest number of confirmed cases after Jerusalem. It is largely populated by orthodox Jews with very big families living in overcrowded neighbourhoods.

Irma remembered

On Wednesday afternoon, April 1 (perhaps significantly), I looked out over the motionless village below, enjoying the absence of badly tuned scooter engines, and rejoiced in the countryside’s recovery from its devastation by Hurricane Irma, although some of the displaced corrugated iron is still concealed in the undergrowth. I went to bed happy that our government and people were taking precautions that would help keep us all safe from infection.

My equanimity was shattered next morning by pictures from a neighbour of crowds milling about outside Road Town supermarkets, only some of whom were carefully spaced out with six feet in between. Other seniors with compromised health might also have felt nooses tightening around their necks.

I relived the shock of being told on the eve of my birthday in November 2017 that my son had died. My distraught daughter-in-law had found him lying in the bath in a coma. He had died from pneumonia after a week on life support, his immune system weakened by unsuspected leukaemia.

The United Kingdom has found that the millions of tests it imported from China were unsatisfactory and its deputy chief medical officer says lifting the lockdown too soon could risk a second wave of infection. Epidemiologists advising the government have suggested that Road Town could need to shut down for months, possibly into June or even September. Consequently, the VI government should consider planning for the worst-case scenario: lockdown during the hurricane season, which is currently predicted to bring an above-average number of storms.