With news of the first case of COVID-19 in the English-speaking Caribbean as a patient tested positive for the virus in Jamaica, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has announced a strategy to contain a possible outbreak here, including the appointment of a ‘virus czar’.
She told a news conference this evening following a meeting with the Social Partnership: The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has advised us that they have upgraded the risk of transmission in the Caribbean from high to very high.
“It is against that background that we are here today to be able to ensure we shift from preparedness to readiness and rapid response.”
The Prime Minister advised Barbadians that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital would not be used as one of the treatment centres for patients displaying symptoms of Covid-19, since “there are other normal people who will still need that facility, so we do not want to put it at risk”.
As she outlined four isolation facilities being readied, she said: “We have had a number of actions taken over the last few weeks. The Minister of Health would have announced and we got funds to refurbish the St Lucy District Hospital and the Elayne Cummins Centre, and these will hold 40 people.
“If we need quarantine beds before we finish the work planned for Harrison Point, [Barbados Defence Force base] Paragon can hold between 250 and 280 beds for that purpose.
“At Harrison Point, we are now starting work on a number of buildings that will allow us to have another quarantine housing between 120 and 130 beds. They are finishing architectural details at present, but as a quarantine, we will have the capacity to have an isolation facility with 56 beds, 20 with ventilators, 36 without.
“Enmore has six beds and can deal with any immediate case. We are going to Parliament for a supplementary for the ventilators and furniture for $8.8 million dollars, but we are still awaiting details on the cost of capital works on refurbishing the facility at Harrison Point.
“There is also a field hospital at the Barbados Defence Force with 40 beds, so between the Defence Force, Harrison Point and Enmore we will have 102 isolation beds.”
Mottley also named three officials that will be taking the lead in managing the quarantine facilities. Dr. Corey Forde, head of infection control at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Alvin Hart, a Barbadian who rendered “distinguished service” in Sierra Leone is to be Quarantine Facilities Manager for all of the facilities, the Prime Minister announced.
And at the British High Commission, Richard Carter of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has agreed to the “czar for COVID-19 in Barbados.
Carter was cited for the outreach effort against Ebola in Sierra Leone, receiving a medal from the
Queen for his work. Mottley said he has agreed to “speak to every ministry on the matter”.
The Prime Minister also said: “Although we were advised of it across the world, it is in the context of it having reached the Americas over the last two weeks that we understand it is coming closer to us.
“Having said that, we believe we are ready for most of it and we will continue to expand the capacity to deal with it.”
She commended the work of the Ministry of Health and other agencies over the last five and half weeks in their efforts to screen visitors coming into the island.
She said: “The Ministry of Health has developed protocols that have allowed them over the last five-and-ahalf weeks to screen 156 people and they did eight tests, all of which have been negative thus far, but we must continue to be vigilant and approve the National Pandemic Prepareness Plan.”
In speaking about the preparedness plan, Mottley said: “We are conscious that the arrangments we have to put in place must be guided by a few principles.
“Plan A is to stop transmission and prevent the spread; Plan B, slow transmission and prevent spread; and Plan C is to slow transmission and reduce impact.
“This is absolutely critical if we look back in this moment in time to ensure we come out as unscathed as possible in terms of protecting human life and quality of life.”