GHS students’ Guadeloupe trip ends before lockdown
by BRIA KING
AT LEAST 44 PEOPLE — 39 Girls’ High School students and five chaperones — and members of their households are in quarantine, following their abrupt return from a school trip to the French territory of Guadeloupe.
The students and their chaperones returned to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) on Monday, March 16 — six days into their originally scheduled 10-day trip.
Michelle Beache, headmistress of the Girls’ High School told SEARCHLIGHT that the students’ trip to Guadeloupe was part of the annual social sciences tour that the school organises for fourth form students.
The headmistress said the group was made up of students of History, Geography and Modern Languages, particularly French students.
Beache however, declined to comment any further on the matter, noting that it was a confidential issue.
“I prefer not to say. We already know, the parents already know, the school knows, the ministry of education knows…” she said.
According to reports, the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Guadeloupe on Thursday, March 12, two days after the GHS delegation had arrived on the French territory.
Once the first case was reported, the territory took the decision to close nurseries, schools and universities until further notice.
As at March 18, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Guadeloupe stood at 33 and the French Department is presently under lock-down under orders of French President Emmanuel Macron.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said on radio yesterday that two chartered flights from One Caribbean were sent to retrieve the GHS students and their chaperones from the island.
And he said the government would help the all-girl institution to cover the cost of the charters.
“Now its US$8110. An invoice was sent asking if we can help with it and we will help. This is something entirely unforeseen but… it’s an expenditure that has arisen which is necessary to incur,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister added that he was not second guessing the parents or school’s decision to go along with the trip as it was a sensible and reasonable decision, given that Guadeloupe had no confi rmed cases of COVID-19 when the delegation left SVG on March 10.
A release from the Ministry of Health, dated March 19 said that as more countries report community spread of COVID-19, mandatory quarantine is being implemented for travellers coming from these countries.
“It is based on this public health practice that a group of students, teachers and chaperones who recently returned from Guadeloupe are on mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Household members of these persons have been advised to voluntary quarantine themselves,” the release said.
Lyf Compton, a parent of one of the students who went on the trip told SEARCHLIGHT that his decision to send his daughter on the trip, despite the spread of coronavirus within the region stemmed from there being no reported cases in any of the islands that she would have to travel through.
“At the time they were leaving St Vincent, St Vincent didn’t have any cases. They were in transit in Barbados, Barbados didn’t have any cases and I knew in the event of Guadeloupe developing any cases, they have a very good healthcare system there so I wasn’t worried or anything like that,” he said.
Compton noted that a meeting was also held with parents, the Ministry of Health and the school before the girls left SVG.
He said several parents posed questions at the meeting but all present consented to sending their daughters on the trip, which they had been preparing for over the past couple months.
The father said that the reason given by the school for the trip being cut short was that Guadeloupe had developed cases of COVID-19 and they wanted to have the students return before the country was shut down.
He, however expressed disappointment with the way the situation was dealt with.
“I think the management [of GHS] owes parents an apology for creating unnecessary panic,” he said. “They basically told the students not to tell their parents anything. So basically, the students went on a field trip and when they came back, they told them they should pack fast and don’t tell nobody”. Compton said his daughter has not exhibited any flu-like symptoms since she returned from Guadeloupe. And his entire family — he, his wife, daughter and son, have been in quarantine at home since Monday.
“…She has a normal temperature…nothing unusual,” the father said.
Another student’s guardian told SEARCHLIGHT that she was informed that the delegation would return because Guadeloupe was in the process of shutting down as a result of COVID-19.
Both she and the teenager have also been in quarantine at home since the group returned on Monday.
“Personally, I don’t think that she is sick or anything. I’m going along with it more as a precaution but we’re fine. We are not stressed or anything,” the guardian told SEARCHLIGHT.
As of Tuesday, March 17, there were no additional cases of COVID-19 in SVG.