COVID-19 is here, we must adapt to new reality
COVID-19 has changed the world as we see it and we must now learn to live with the virus.
And while many countries have shut down, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has not, although passenger travel into and out of the country has come to a virtual standstill, with all commercial airlines suspending their regularly scheduled flights.
Wuhan, China, where the virus is said to have originated, announced this week that they are preparing for a second wave of infection. It is clear that the end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight.
At a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Simone Keizer-Beache said we, as Vincentians, must adapt to this new reality.
“This COVID is here, it is in the world, it is something that we are going to have to learn to live with to continue our lives,” the CMO said.
She said last Saturday, as she was leaving her home, she noticed her neighbour, a Seventh Day Adventist, holding a prayer meeting on his porch with five persons “nicely” spaced three to six feet apart.
“They were having their Saturday Sabbath devotions. They were living with and continuing their lives… and this is what we need to start thinking about. How we continue to live and not just sit and wait. We need to live with this,” the CMO told the gathering of journalists, during the session that was broadcast live.
It was noted that part of the new norm of living with COVID-19 is maintaining the public health measures currently in place, which include hand hygiene, cough etiquette, physical distancing of at least three to six feet in public spaces, and strict adherence to quarantine and isolation.
These measures are said to be vital, if we are to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19 in SVG.
Dr Keizer-Beache stated that the aim is to contain the virus and that she has never advised the government to close its borders.
She is of the opinion that when borders are closed, the population is protected for a period of time, but when the borders reopen, what you were keeping out, would come in.
The CMO said that what is important is controlling the process and giving health officials time, by slowing the spread.
She said she thinks it is an error to believe that the population can be forever protected by keeping the borders closed, unless you are going to do that until a vaccine is developed.
Dr Keizer-Beache said that a vaccine may take 18 months to develop and once found, a massive vaccination program will have to be done.
“We have to learn to live with this,” Dr Keizer-Beache reiterated, while adding that learning to live with COVID-19 means strengthening surveillance and the capacity to identify, isolate, quarantine and manage.
She said we must build our capacity rather than assume that we can forever prevent something that will come.
The CMO also noted that there are a few small islands that the pandemic has not touched, but in her opinion, once travel restarts, cases will get to these places, so whatever time you have without COVID-19, you should be building to deal with the pandemic.
Giving an example, she said that the H1N1 virus is still with us, but we have learnt to detect and maintain public health measures that control the spread.
Dr Keizer-Beache said it all comes back to basic public health measures like contact tracing, quarantine, isolation and washing hands.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves also supported the idea that we must learn to live with COVID-19, saying that we must not forget that there are other sick persons here with ailments like cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
He noted also that elective surgeries have been put off, but an elective surgery can become urgent and compulsory.
“We have other health issues we have to address,” he said, while noting that since the advent of COVID-19 there have been about four homicides which were not given much focus by the media.