St Vincent and the Grenadines is now reporting above normal cases of COVID-19 compared to 2020. In 2020, we managed to keep cases of COVID-19 to a minimum and mostly confined to imported cases.
Unfortunately, almost a year after the global outbreak and after months of reporting low number of cases there has been a sharp increase in the figures and the cases are now beyond imported cases from visitors.
Many are asking, what has gone wrong? Firstly, we must note that public health control measures are not easy to implement and to sustain. They require a coordinated approach and a multisectoral approach.
However, even with this, as time goes on, this supports wanes as partners become exhausted and momentum is lost. It means therefore that the competent authorities must do their best to engage all stakeholders to get maximum support in the response efforts especially with a pandemic that is dragging on well close to a year.
Secondly, the sustaining of public health measures that would ensure rapid detection and containment such as surveillance, contact tracing, quarantine and testing require a lot of resources. The response can put a strain on health system and the system can easily become overwhelmed causing gaps to appear in the response process that can weaken the national response.
Another important point to note is that in small countries such as St Vincent and the Grenadines, there is only a handful of public health workers. These workers have been on the frontline working non-stop for almost a year now. Many of them have been working under very stressful circumstances and they are by now exhausted and possibly frustrated that the pandemic is dragging on so long. This burnout can also weaken the national response. Measures should therefore be put in place to mitigate against this such as delegation, cross training of staff and tapping into volunteers and utilizing field epidemiology graduates to assist and lend that additional support.
Additionally, the authorities need to be sterner on the application of prevention and control measures.
I noted that there is stress on the banning of amplified music with the intention of preventing persons from gathering. While this may work, we know that people can gather with or without amplified music and so this sends a false sense of information to the general public that only partygoers are the risk groups. The message should be plain and simple – no mass gathering with or without music.
Finally, the use of facemasks must be mandated. This must be done in a manner where people understand the importance of the masks and how to use the masks properly. There must be consistent use of the face masks coupled with proper hand hygiene.
Let us not get too comfortable and complacent. We all have a part to play to reduce the spread of the virus.