Public Health Emergency extended

THE Public Health Emergency proclamation in Barbados has been extended until August 31 2020.

This was revealed late on Tuesday night by Minister of Health and Wellness (MOHW), Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, who tabled a resolution for the extension, which he reminded was first issued on March 28 of this year and expired on April 27. It was then extended until June 30 and has not yet been revoked.

Minister Bostic says the extension ironically comes at a time when Barbados is marking precisely one month since recording its last positive case in terms of local transmission.

“You would have recalled that we would have had five cases that were repatriated persons, who on arrival would have been tested and the positive results were issued by the lab on the following day. But we have now gone about one month without having a case.”

He stressed however that this does not mean that Barbados is in the all-clear. “I want to make it very clear that yes we have not had a case in about a month, but that should not be taken to mean that there is no longer a problem. That there is no longer an international pandemic and that we no longer have a public health emergency.

“I say that because we are not operating in a silo and we do not live in a bubble. Barbados has a close and intimate relation with the OECS and two, we are part of the Americas. If you have been following the news recently, you would have recognised that the Americas is now where the epicentre is for COVID-19.

“Out of the 9 million cases confirmed of COVID globally, approximately 50 per cent of those cases have been recorded in the Americas. If I can bring it a little close to home, almost 4.5 million cases have now been reported in the Americas. The Americas also is now the place for the most new cases and within a 24-hour period, for example, out of 152 000 new cases, 90 000 of those cases were recorded in the Americas.

“Those of us here who know our ge-ography, would know that a CARICOM country called Guyana shares a common border with Brazil and also Suriname. All of that is to say to you and to all those persons in this Chamber that as long as this situation continues, not only globally but in the Americas and although we consider Europe is kind of levelling off at the moment but still the UK with 306 000 cases, our source markets and the areas of the world, Europe and the Americas, Canada and USA, we still have to be extremely vigilant. That is why we are seeking to extend the Public Health Emergency because admittedly, we are in a good position at this point in time.”

He stressed that being in this “good position” is a result not only of the hard work of public health officials and all of those other agencies and NGOs, the Social Partnership, Labour and the churches, but it is equally because of the co-ordination and collaboration of the majority of Barbadians.

“There are very few people who have been flouting the protocols and so on, but we are satisfied that Barbadians for the most part have been disciplined, have been sensible and have co-operated with us at this point. But all of that could easily go through the window by a few imported cases if we do not have the right protocols in place and the extension of this Public Health Emergency will allow us to escalate if we need to escalate in terms of the measures we are adopting and it also facilitates the operation of several areas of our response to the pandemic.

“For example, the nurses we have from Cuba are under and as a result of the Public Health Emergency declaration because that gives certain powers to the Ministry of Health to do that. Even with the QEH, there are some regulations that have been enacted in this House to allow the QEH to add various compounds and facilities to the hospital infrastructure for the management of the pandemic. So for example the Blackman and Gollop School, that came under the QEH; the Harrison Point at the moment is functioning as a QEH facility for obvious reasons. So there is every good in what is being done here.

“All this is, is to allow us to continue in what is still a public health emergency and a pandemic. There are going to be ebbs and flows, there are times when we will scale down our response as we are doing right now, but while we are scaling down our response, we are now preparing for what could happen later on, so that we are able to manage our response and to stay on top of things and I dare say the passing of this revolution will continue to provide that extra teeth to the MOHW and by extension the Government and the country to continue to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Health Minister said he recently participated in an executive meeting with the Pan American Health Organisation where a number of challenges related to COVID-19 came to the fore. “Of all of those challenges, there is one that stood out in my mind. It is the fact that it is said that there is a gap which exists between authorities communicating the risk associated with COVID and the interventions that are required to mitigate those risks against the perception of those risks, by the general public.

“And I want to posit, Mr. Speaker, that the extension of the Public Health Emergency here in Barbados is the cornerstone in our efforts to close that gap between public perception of the risk and communicating the risk and the mitigation of those risks by the authorities,” he said.

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