NIA CHARLESTOWN NEVIS (March 16, 2020) — The following is an address by Hon. Mark Brantley, Premier of Nevis, Senior Minister of Health and Minister of Finance in the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) regarding the Covid-19 virus. It was delivered on Monday March 16, 2020.
My brothers and sisters good morning,
I address you now in my capacity as the Premier of our beloved Nevis.
As you are well aware, our island like the rest of the Federation, the region, and the world is under high alert for the threat of the Corona Virus or Covid-19.
At the outset I make it clear that Nevis has had no confirmed cases of Covid-19. I believe that this is worth repeating. Nevis has had no confirmed cases of Covid-19. At this point therefore our island and our people remain vigilant but safe.
However, given the nature and rapid spread of the virus, I believe that we must all continue to pray for the best while we prepare for the worst.
Our Junior Minister of Health Hazel Brandy-Williams would have addressed you only on Friday last week and set out where Nevis is in terms of our level of preparedness.
I thank her and the hard working team in the Ministry of Health for their vigilance and proactive approach thus far in managing the potential impact of this global crisis on our beloved island.
I assure you that the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) has had an all-inclusive approach thus far to this matter. Stakeholders have been engaged and accurate information disseminated to the Nevisian public.
Our technical teams have worked closely with their counterparts on St. Kitts to ensure that both islands are following the same protocols.
The NIA has secured additional supplies such as masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizers and other protective equipment for our front line responders.
We are also in the process of securing additional ventilators for the management of critical patients.
We have rehired some retired nurses and pressed them into service manning all of our ports of entry. Working with the Nevis Air and Sea Ports Authority (NASPA) we have heightened Port Health surveillance and border control with inter agency collaboration between NASPA, Customs, Immigration and Health.
We are now screening all incoming passengers at the Vance W. Amory International Airport by an assigned nurse and all incoming cruise and yacht passengers at our Charlestown Port. Yachts now will be allowed to disembark passengers only at the Charlestown Port.
We have thus far convened two wide ranging stakeholder meetings on January 27th and on March 4th and brought all of our various ministries and agencies together. We also convened an all-day Covid-19 symposium on Wednesday 11th March at NEPAC [Nevis Performing Arts Centre] where our health professionals and technical team engaged with members of the public.
We have ramped up public sensitization on infection prevention and control which includes materials prepared and widely disseminated via print, radio, TV and various social media platforms. This effort will continue with all stakeholders but especially the most vulnerable among us, our seniors and persons with underlying health conditions.
We shall continue to sensitize and train our health workers in infection prevention and control and the management of patients.
Our Health workers have been engaged in online webinars and training courses through PAHO [Pan American Health Organisation] in areas of Risk Communication, Infection Prevention and Control, Donning and Doffing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE’s).
Nevis has adopted the CARPHA [Caribbean Public Health Agency] checklist and we continue to utilize this checklist to assess our preparedness and our response.
Our primary health facility Alexandra Hospital is making the necessary preparations to isolate, treat and manage any potential cases.
Additionally, an area has been identified to house the ‘flu clinic” where persons with acute respiratory illnesses will be triaged and managed. This will assist in protecting other persons including our vulnerable patients who seek care at the Out-patient Department.
In this regard we thank PAHO for its technical assistance in providing training and in-country assessment of our facilities which will occur this week.
The NIA has also identified a suitable quarantine site in the event that such a site becomes necessary.
Working with our Federal counterparts, Nevis has adhered to travel advisories issued for China, Italy, South Korea, Iran, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Persons are asked to refrain from traveling to and from these countries and other Covid-19 affected areas.
While we apologize sincerely for the disruption in travel, we ask for your understanding as we try to keep our island and our people safe.
My brothers and sisters I have taken the time to give you a sense of our level of preparedness and to assure you that the risks associated with this outbreak are being effectively anticipated, managed and planned for.
I however urge you not to be overly alarmed. While we have seen the hysteria which has gripped much of the world, we encourage you to resist the temptation to react to the impending circumstances irrationally. That is not who we are as a Nevisian people irrationally.
There are many who are actively engaged in disseminating false information and creating panic. I urge you to access your information from the government as our professionals will be updating you regularly with accurate information.
Nevis has always been an open island with an open economy dependent on tourism and trade for its economic survival. My cabinet believes that our actions going forward must be prudent and sensible, taking into account a sober assessment of risk and our level of preparedness.
Shutting off Nevis from the rest of the world has serious implications for our small economy, our food and fuel supply and our very way of life. We believe that what is necessary now is a sensible and pragmatic approach.
As your government we shall continue to be calm and consultative in our assessment and decision making.
We have had reported to us significant hotel cancellations and many major groups which would have pumped millions into our local economy have now decided to forego travel.
Most of our remaining cruise ship calls for the season have cancelled. The recent travel advisory on UK [United Kingdom] nationals effectively means a discontinuation of the British Airways flight to St Kitts Nevis.
These developments affect hundreds of hotel workers, restaurant workers, taxi drivers, tour operators and other allied services. Tourism is for us the engine that drives our island’s economy, and there is no doubt that we shall suffer serious consequences from the fall out.
These are indeed unprecedented times for our little island. I well recall when I was sworn in as Premier of Nevis, I prayed not for longevity in office but for wisdom. I understood then as I understand now that challenges will come when least expected and only through wisdom which comes from God that we will be able to cope and overcome.
To that end, I have been in regular contact with key stakeholders. I have obtained assurances from the Four Seasons Resort and other hotels on the island and the Medical University of the Americas that they will continue at this point to keep their doors open for business.
I have been assured by our major supermarkets that our imported food supply is not yet at risk.
I have instructed our Ministry of Agriculture to immediately seek to put more short term food crops under cultivation and to bring our crop, meat and poultry farmers together quickly to determine how the government can better incentivize them to rapidly increase production over the next several months.
Thankfully, production had already been increased for our annual Agriculture Open Day.
The Ministry of Health will shortly publish protocols to manage large events already planned for the island such as our annual Inter Primary School Championships and Agriculture Open Day.
In as much as seniors appear most susceptible to the worse impact of Covid-19, I have asked that with immediate effect large gatherings of our senior groups be suspended and that visits to the Flamboyant Home and the St George’s Anglican Home be restricted to immediate family or primary caregiver only.
The Covid-19 virus appears to attack persons who are already sick with potentially disastrous consequences. I am well aware of the wonderful practice of our churches and religious groups to visit our hospital on Sundays to bring songs and prayers to the patients there. I accordingly crave the understanding of our church and religious community in temporarily suspending such group visits. I ask them nevertheless to offer their prayers for our sick and infirm as indeed I ask them to pray for all of Nevis.
I have directed the Ministry of Social Development and our Seniors Division to liaise with the Ministry of Health to ensure that all seniors and persons with underlying high risk conditions across the island are visited and provided with accurate information and that robust regular monitoring be undertaken especially of seniors and others who live on their own.
I have directed that a hotline be established for anyone who suspects that he or she might have contracted the Covid-19 virus or requires accurate information. Details of that hotline will be published shortly.
We shall as of tomorrow have a dedicated Covid-19 Facebook Page to bring immediate updates to the Nevisian public via social media.
As Minister of Finance, I have directed that with immediate effect all duties and VAT [Value Added Tax] be suspended from hand sanitizers, hand sanitizing dispensing machines, sanitizing aerosol sprays such as Lysol, soaps, disinfectants, masks, gloves, gowns and other protective clothing and ventilators and/or nebulizers for those seeking to invest in their own equipment.
As Minister of Finance, I have also today written formally to the banks and other financial houses on Nevis asking them to proactively manage their relationships with the Nevisian people, to ensure that proper arrangements can be made for those clients (especially those in the tourism industry) who might suffer a falloff in pay during this difficult period.
I am hereby appealing to the business sector to maintain steady prices and not hike prices in this difficult time. We are in this fight together and I urge the private sector to partner with us in these efforts.
I have also directed that all non-essential travel for government ministers and public servants be suspended until further notice.
We are monitoring the situation with our schools and will be guided by the ongoing advice of our experts. Our health workers will be deployed across our schools to bring accurate information to our teachers and students and to provide monitoring.
We continue to urge persons with flu like symptoms to stay at home and contact their doctor for guidance before going to the clinics or hospital.
We continue to urge our people to practice good hygiene ensuring that you wash your hands often with clean running water and soap, and that you use an alcohol hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content when soap and water are not available.
We continue to urge you not to cough or sneeze in the direction of others but to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and immediately discard used tissue into a closed bin.
We urge you to wear a mask if you develop flu like symptoms.
We ask that you wipe surfaces at work such as desks and chairs with disinfectants and that you clean your cell phones as often as possible with alcohol.
Keep your hands out of your face since unwashed hands can transfer the virus to your nose, mouth and eyes. These ladies and gentlemen are simple matters of hygiene taught to all of us as children which can now help us prevent the spread of this virus.
I have designated a team led by Dr. Judy Nisbett and comprising Nadine Carty Caines of our Health Promotion Unit, Zahnella Claxton, Principal Education Officer of Education; Brian Dyer of our Disaster Management [Department]; Oral Brandy of NASPA, Jadine Yarde of the Nevis Tourism Authority; Paulette Bartlette of Immigration; and Superintendent Lyndon David of the Nevis Police [Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force, Nevis Division] to be the focal group on this matter, and to report directly to me as Premier on a daily basis.
I end my brothers and sisters by assuring you that we shall do what we can to protect our island. Our task as your government is to seek to manage our exposure to this crisis sensibly protecting the health and wellbeing of our citizens and residents but also seeking to preserve as much as possible the economic health and wellbeing of our people. It is a delicate balance to be sure but a balance that we must seek to achieve.
I remind you that our island has faced crisis before. What has always defined us is the indomitable spirit and will of the Nevisian people. We are strong; we are resilient; we are Nevisian; and yes we shall overcome!
I ask now for your collective prayers for our island and our country and I assure you that with God’s abiding grace and mercy we shall overcome this together. He has never forsaken us and we pray that even in our darkest hour His mercy to us will endure forever.
Thank you, and may God bless you.