A long line snakes from the Rite Way Food Market in Road Town as residents stock up last Thursday for the lockdown that started two days later. (Photo: ALTON BERTIE)

Seventeen COVID-19 tests came back negative on Monday, which means the number of confirmed cases in the territory remains at three, but officials warned that the local danger from the pandemic is not over.

“This is why it’s important to have a 24-hour curfew in place at this time,” Premier Andrew Fahie said Monday after announcing the results during a Facebook broadcast, adding, “While the number of confirmed cases is low and we have no new confirmed case, this is not the time for us to let down our guards. We must adhere to he curfew.”

All of the confirmed cases were imported, officials said, and patients have shown mild symptoms and were not hospitalised.

Of the 64 total samples collected by the Regional Security System and tested by the Caribbean Public Health Agency, 61 have returned negative and the remaining three will be retested to determine the patients’ full recovery from the virus, Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone announced Monday. He did not say if more test results are pending.

‘Precautionary measure’

In an address to the territory on Saturday evening, the premier described the 14-day lockdown as a “precautionary measure” to identify any “pockets” of the virus that government may have missed.

Within those days, he said, any individuals who might be infected would be identified.

“We as a territory have moved proactively to make sure it doesn’t get out of control,” he added.

Mr. Malone told viewers that 81 percent of people infected with COVID-19 globally show mild symptoms while 14 percent experience serious symptoms, and five percent face critical conditions.

Such estimates have varied, however, with Bloomberg News reporting that 15 to 50 percent of people infected do not display any recognisable symptoms.

The number of COVID-19 cases confirmed globally surpassed one million on April 1. As of yesterday morning, there were 1,441,128 confirmed case, resulting in 82,992 deaths and 307,819 recoveries so far.

“The projections were that if we did not do the preventative measures, that we in the BVI would have had 3,700 persons infected by COVID-19,” Mr. Malone said on Saturday.

Health experts have reported that 3.4 percentage of confirmed cases result in fatalities. Using Mr. Malone’s numbers, that would mean a possibility of around 126 fatalities in the Virgin Islands.

“The goal is to not lose one life to coronavirus,” the premier told listeners.

New curfew

After a third confirmed case was announced last week, officials updated the territory on the 14-day lockdown that started Saturday night after a three-day period allowing residents to con- duct essential business.

Health officials have not returned repeated messages and calls from the Beacon, and Mr. Fahie’s promised weekly press conferences have stalled, with the last one on March 24.

Messrs. Fahie and Malone, however, have continued to give live updates online, and they fielded questions on April 1 during a radio show where listeners could call in.

Responding to questions about laundry services, Mr. Malone said the government has to look closely at all laundromats and gauge how to manage social distancing measures if the services are open.

He also said that ferries would depart and return to sister islands during the three days of essential shopping last week, while adhering to the stated schedule.

Measures taken

In the early stages of prevention, the government set up a hotline (852-7650) for people to call if they are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

If the symptoms (fever with cough or difficulty breathing) match those of the virus, patients were instructed to remain at home and wait for medical professionals donned in protective gear to assess them. This was an effort to limit the possible spread of the virus to hospitals, especially frontline workers like hospital staff.

The “persons-under-investigation” were instructed to remain in a 14-day quarantine, and breaking that order is now a punishable offence under recently passed legislation.

Surveillance

Last week, Messrs. Malone and Fahie assured the territory that there would be expanded surveillance and testing, support to people in quarantine, and monitoring of signs and symptoms of the virus.

In recent days, the government has been sending representatives from private security firms to check on quarantined people daily as part of efforts to manage the curfew rules.

“These measures may seem like an extreme response when the territory still has only three confirmed cases of the virus, … [but] it is vitally important to take every precaution when it comes to protecting our people,” Mr. Malone said.

They also reminded the territory of the current exceptions in place during the round-the-clock curfew, which allow fishers and farmers to secure their boats and tend to their farms and livestock between 6 a.m. and noon daily, and essential workers with curfew passes to travel to and from work.

In the Caribbean

As of Monday, 33 countries and territories had been affected by the virus in the Caribbean, with 3,260 cases and 130 deaths, according to the CARPHA’s Monday situation report.

“We note with concern that infection rates are constantly increasing in neighbouring jurisdictions and countries that have close ties to the Virgin Islands,” Mr. Malone stated.

Efforts to “carefully manage” closed ports and the movement of freight and cargo ships, and securing the border from illegal entry, are priorities at this time, he added.

Mr. Malone also said that the Comprehensive Health Improvement Programme will implement a “holistic approach to a healthy life.” No further details were given about the CHIP initiative, which has been in the works for several months.

Economic stimulus

Mr. Fahie thanked the United Kingdom for its support in providing 480 test kits through Public Health England, but also stated that combatting the virus has been done “together as a people of the Virgin Islands.”

“As a people, we showed that we are responsible to put our own preventative and proactive measures in place to keep all of us safe,” Mr. Fahie said.

The $12 million that was allocated by government for the response to COVID-19, he added, has been spent on measures including a quarantine area at the Dr. Orlando Smith Hospital. As of Saturday, the isolation tent on the third floor of the carpark of the hospital was still under construction.

Mr. Fahie also promised on Monday that the first phase of a stimulus package would be submitted to Cabinet this week. Without announcing a specific date, he said that he would make an address on the preliminary economic stimulus plan “in short order.”

Weeks ago, the premier requested aid from the UK in three ways: First, he requested a ship that could act as a quarantine or isolation centre; second, he asked for help building on-land quarantine areas; and lastly, he requested that the UK help fund an economic stimulus package which would pay unemployed residents a portion of their salaries during the pandemic.

Governor Gus Jaspert initially responded to the requests on March 30 by stressing that fiscal management and social security are responsibilities of the VI government and adding that the UK “needs to consider the request.”

On Friday, he stated that the UK is in discussions with the territory’s leaders about “plans to support individuals and businesses.”

Mr. Jaspert also informed the territory that the RFA Argus ship set sail for the Caribbean to aid the region in hurricane preparedness.

It is expected to arrive soon, carrying hurricane-related aid like water, ration packs, and materials to repair damaged or blocked roads, he said. These supplies could help if needed during the COVID-19 outbreak, he explained, but first and foremost the ship is meant to prepare the territory for hurricane season.

In a statement addressed to the territory after 9 p.m. on Saturday, Mr. Jaspert promised to speak throughout this week about the territory’s approach and the “medical science” behind decisions made. He hasn’t given any updates since then, however.

Peace at home

During his address on Monday, Mr. Fahie also addressed perpetrators of domestic violence, noting that “males are being reported of being the ones at fault.”

“I want to speak to you brothers directly. You cannot be abusing our females. You cannot be abusing our children,” he said. “You are there to build stronger homes and stronger families, not to be a stronger monster. This type of behaviour will not be tolerated.”

He encouraged everyone in the territory to turn their houses into homes where “there is peace and positive relationships.”

The government has published recommended activities for families to do during the 14-day lockdown, including exercising inside or within their properties and trying new recipes. In one flyer, government described the lockdown as a “coronacation” and encouraged residents to stay active while at home.

Vaccines and treatments

Meanwhile, experts around the world are working toward finding a cure for coronavirus.

The World Health Organization has received applications for the approval of 40 diagnostic tests and 50 vaccines. Last Thursday, the Pan-American Health Organization said that these results are expected in a few weeks.

In late March, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced a 45-country study called “The Solidarity Trial.” The aim of the study, CARPHA reported, is to test the effectiveness of four different anti-viral agents.

In the United States, the Drug and Food Administration allowed the use of hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate products to treat adolescent and adult patients of COVID-19, but the drug is not a vaccine, nor is it foolproof.


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