By Demion McTair. Updated 6:33 p.m., Friday, June 12, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Editorial: If Vincentians are looking on well, they would notice that their country has so far made history in at least four ways during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are four ways in which Saint Vincent and the Grenadines made history from the time the country recorded its first COVID-19 case in March to now:
1. No border closure or lock downs: While countries in the Caribbean are devising strategies to re-open, St. Vincent and the Grenadines never really closed.
In response to the pandemic, the political leadership of the country and some senior government technocrats declared that they favored advanced screening and monitoring measures as opposed to complete lock downs and border closures.
The reasons they gave for this include that “80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild to moderate”, and the unanswerable question: “without a vaccine in sight, how long will we remain closed for?”
The borders remained opened even though international air travel was stalled.
Beaches across the country were occupied frequently, retailers were open constantly, public transportation was up and running and people were going about their business. In some cases, it was business as usual.
But, with the presence of cases, schools were closed and then reopened in an online modality. There were limits to the number of persons who could have attended churches and some public spaces, there were limits to the number of passengers allowed on public transportation, and mask-wearing was eventually being encouraged.
The national carnival – Vincy Mas, the Gospel festival, and the Easter Regattas in the Grenadines were called off.
Quarantine legislation was passed and persons repatriated to the country by air or sea were issued court orders to curtail their movements, restraining them to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Testing and screening were also done for all returning persons to the country and those found to be COVID-19 exposed or infected were put in state isolation.
Public sector workers were working on shifts, some three days at the office and the remaining days at home.
At the time this article was written, the country had recorded 27 cases of COVID-19, the majority of which were imported, mainly through repatriated sailors.
There were 25 recoveries, leaving only two active cases.
Still, there was no consensus on the country’s response to the pandemic, with some ordinary citizens, opposition political members and persons in the diaspora decrying the moves to stay open when the country’s neighbors were locked down.
2. Hosting a cricket tournament during a pandemic:
The hosting of a sporting tournament during a pandemic which required physical distancing to fight it, would have been (and still is) unimaginable for a lot of countries around the world, even those here in the Caribbean.
But, for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the government gave approval for the hosting of the inaugural Vincy Premier League.
The tournament which featured 10-over matches between six (6) teams was held from May 22 to 31, 2020 at the main Arnos Vale playing field.
ESPN Cricinfo said that the Vincy Premier League was the first instance where cricket resumed in a Full Member region comprising international players, since the pandemic halted play.
The Pacific nation of Vanuatu became the first country to resume cricket since the COVID-19 pandemic halted all sport in March 2020, ESPN Cricinfo reported.
Though the tournament was approved and held, it was not done so with large gatherings of cheering crowds or total freedom by players, officials and spectators to operate normally.
There were stringent requirements for all attendees and participants including limited daily number of spectators on each day, a five seats apart seating arrangement, specialized transportation for teams and the like.
3. Resumption of in-person classes:
While some regional stakeholders in the education sector were proposing scrapping some external exams such as CXC for this academic year/term, St. Vincent re-opened most of its schools on May 25 to accommodate students at grade six and form five who have external exams.
The opening was later extended to students in grade 5.
The decision to reopen for in-person classes for these students was not an easy one and was met with harsh criticisms from persons who had concerns about the safety of students and teachers.
The education ministry rolled out a nationwide school cleaning and sanitization program and instituted several protocols for students and staff to ensure safety. These included mask-wearing.
Entities such as the Mustique Charitable Trust came on board with the education sector officials to provide lunches for the students.
The semester ends on July 3.
After St. Vincent’s move to reopen schools for in-person classes for finalizing students, other regional governments such as Jamaica started announcing re-openings in similar fashion and with similar sanitization and mask-wearing protocols.
This is not to say they were inspired by St. Vincent’s move in this regard, or that they were not.
4. Water crisis response:
While the Caribbean was fighting with a pandemic, it was also battling one of the worst droughts in recent history. This led to water shortages.
The situation was no different in St. Vincent than it was elsewhere in the Caribbean, except that for St. Vincent, the freshwater resources did not reach critically low levels until April.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Central Water and Sewage Authority (CWSA), Mr. Garth Saunders, while listing the water rationing situation on other Caribbean countries, said that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was “the last country to implement” an expanded “water rationing schedule” due to the country’s water resources.
The pandemic is not predicted to be over anytime soon but regional and international countries have been trying to work towards a new normal.
Countries that closed due to COVID-19, such as Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda, have led the way in the region with their plans to reopen their tourism and hospitality sector.
Other countries continue to discuss the way forward.