People of St. Maarten, I come to you this evening as Prime Minister and Chair of the EOC in an update for today, March 31, 2020.
After the activation of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), during the first week of March 2020, the Government of St. Maarten officially requested assistance from our Kingdom partner, the Netherlands. At this time, St. Maarten had zero (0) COVID-19 cases, and our French counterparts had just already identified the first two (2) cases themselves.
As a result, the Government began to accelerate all preparations, including synchronizing plans with our French counterparts in order to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak on the island. From the start of her tenure, our Epidemiologist and Head of Collective Prevention Services Eva Lista-De Weever, has dealt with every case encountered since March 5th, 2020, as well as collaborating and cooperating with her French counterparts.
St. Maarten has explored all viable options since the onset of this crisis and has assessed our needs in order to make the necessary request for assistance with the Countries and Organisations that we have a working relationship with. The Government of St. Maarten requested four types of assistance; medical supplies, personnel, ventilators, as well as military assistance. The communication that we received pertaining to our request is that it is being handled and assistance will be provided. In addition, noting the economic fall-out that we expect, a request was made for liquidity support to the Netherlands in order to ensure our survival during this crisis.
People of St. Maarten, this is the reality. We are already, one month into our fight against COVID-19 locally, and we can now say as of today, that we have 16 confirmed cases. Yes, of the 19 pending cases that we had yesterday, 10 of them have been confirmed. This brings our numbers officially to 16. I have been informed that also one person who was a suspected case in isolation at home has passed away today. Thus, recording one (1) death. The details of the recently confirmed cases, as well as that of the deceased person, are not yet known and at present, I will not be able to give any more information until that is known.
However, what I can say, is that we now have 288 persons in quarantine and being monitored. This number has decreased as persons are reaching their 14-day quarantine period on a daily basis and are
being released. Those persons in quarantine developing symptoms are then put in isolation. Our isolation cases are now at 103.
In total, we have tested 58 persons with 16 COVID-19 positive and 36 COVID-19 negative. 6 tests are still pending. I do not have the details as to whether those who have tested positive form part of the 6 persons that have been admitted to the St. Maarten Medical Centre (SMMC) over the past 3 to 4 days. More details on this will be brought to you tomorrow during the Council of Ministers Press Briefing and I wish the families of those persons suffering from the virus as well as the deceased much strength moving forward.
I would also like to update to the general public of St. Maarten that our reality is, as I’ve said from the beginning, that we only have 2 ventilators at SMMC and these are currently occupied by non-COVID-19 patients. The entire Intensive Care Unit containing 3 beds are now occupied with non-COVID-19 patients. Hence, the 6 spaces that the hospital created are currently at capacity with patients that are either suspected or confirmed. I will be able to clarify this during Wednesday, April 1st, Press Briefing.
While we continue to work with SMMC to secure more spaces for isolation units of COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization and expect that we will be able to handle more patients as soon as they are finalized, with the promised assistance that is also expected, we must face what our reality is today.
In this morning’s discussion with the Ministerial Consultation on Health and COVID-19 response in the Kingdom, it was concluded that the Netherlands is able to provide 42 Intensive Care beds for the Caribbean. This also includes personnel and equipment. However, at the end of this meeting, no consensus could be reached as to how they would be divided across the Islands and Countries. That includes the (Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba) BES islands, Aruba, Curacao, and St. Maarten.
After much discussion, St. Maarten was able to secure support for 6 Intensive Care beds and the necessary support including ventilators, equipment, and personnel. The other islands and countries as well as St. Maarten believe that we require much more. The supply and division of the remaining 36 Intensive Care beds will be decided upon in a meeting later this week with delivery expected by mid-April according to State Secretary for Health Blokhuis. It was clear that the solidarity between the Countries of the Kingdom and the Islands still stands. We agreed that we will assist each other in times of need as long as our own situation is not critical.
Right now, the situation on St. Maarten is critical where capacity is concerned as we have warned over the past month. We know that even with 6 additional Intensive Care beds, this will not be sufficient seeing that today we have 16 positive cases. What I can say though, is that our first 6 cases are all now back at home including those that were hospitalized and are all expected to recover.
Despite the difficulties that we are currently experiencing securing additional support within the Kingdom, we have continued to upscale our capacities by setting up the pavilion to hold at least 10 to 20 persons who are COVID-19 confirmed and suspect that they are in need of medium (temporary)care. We expect that during this week, we will be able to finalize that.
It must be stated that the proposal of the additional 6 beds for St. Maarten will also include servicing Saba and St. Eustatius. St. Maarten already serves as an overflow for the regular patients of Saba and St. Eustatius and with our limited capacity already at its max, if there is a situation on St. Eustatius right now, while completely willing, we simply would not have the capacity to be able to assist. That is simply our reality.
I believe that it should be made clear to the general public of St. Maarten that we are in the Dutch Kingdom. We cannot get funds from anywhere else without the permission of the Dutch. We cannot get assistance from any other location without the Dutch assistance and this is the situation at hand. Even tapping into European financing is limited and can currently only be assessed with the assistance of the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has made it known that in no uncertain terms, that they are also currently in a crisis and that all of us collectively and individually “We moeten roeien met de riemen die we hebben!” This phrase basically says that we must somehow, make do with what we have. We must make the best of this situation and we will because we are a resilient people.
We are being pro-active, but even in being pro-active, we have had delays in terms of being able to get what we need to St. Maarten in time, and in advance of an outbreak that we are now experiencing. Included in that is the request, is the one for military assistance which was made 11 days ago and to this day, March 31st, 2020, no answer has been received. This is still being discussed and we look forward to a response.
As such, I must inform the people of St. Maarten that even with the announcements made last night with the measures made to go into effect today, even more, stringent measures are needed in order to protect the people of St. Maarten.
As of Sunday midnight, what the Government of St. Maarten has instituted thus far, is a curfew with limited movement and no movement in the evening. The limited movement is from 6:00 AM – 8:00 PM. From 8:00 PM – 6:00 AM there should be no movement unless for emergency reasons or work-related. This curfew only allows for essential movement during the daytime with a disaster pass, a ‘Professional Travel Proof’ or a ‘Personal Travel Waiver.’ These documents are explained in my National Address of March 30, 2020, and they are available on the government’s website and at key locations around the island.
In the event that you do not have access to a printer, you are also allowed to handwrite the reasons for you being on the road, should that be necessary, and you are stopped by the Police. You must fill out, write and carry this waiver with you at all times when on the public roads, whether for travel to essential businesses or for emergencies. You are encouraged to comply with the measures and remain at home as much as possible unless movement on the public roads cannot be avoided.
As such I would like to reiterate the business closures that have been addressed in Monday’s address as well as emphasize the changes necessary as a result of the continued expected growth in positive cases among our isolated cases.
The Ministry of TEATT hereby informs that based on the decisions of the EOC. The following businesses are the only ones allowed to be opened and this would be printed in the National Gazette. During the regular opening hours from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, grocery stores, supermarkets, bakeries, pharmacies, banks, medical and emergency services, gas stations and locations selling cooking gas are allowed to be open. Due to the fact that we are heavily dependent on our electronics at the moment, electronic stores and repair services are also allowed to be open during this time.
No government organizations, GEBE, TelEm, and UTS, as I mentioned last evening, will be open to the public. The public is allowed to be on the open roads only to visit the grocery stores, supermarkets bakeries, pharmacies, banks, pharmacies, electronic stores, repair services, gas stations, locations selling cooking gas, medical and emergency services that includes visiting the doctor.
Businesses that are not allowed to be open to the public but are allowed to have a special arrangement due to the services they provide to especially emergency services are restaurants, especially government construction projects, hardware stores to be able to supply materials to such projects and maintenance and repair of emergency vehicles. Let me reiterate, the general public may not go to restaurants or order food in.
The general contractors are not allowed to carry out construction projects. Only government projects are allowed to be continued as we are doing key services where it pertains to home repairs as well as the pavilions and repair to the police station roof. Hardware stores that service these projects are allowed to be open to service only them. Maintenance and repair of emergency vehicles that include police, fire, ambulance, etc. are allowed as well as repairs to the open road by the Ministry of VROMI.
These measures will go into effect as of tomorrow, with the only exception being restaurants as we understand that preparations are already made. Therefore, the decision for the restaurants will go into place as of midnight tomorrow night Wednesday, April 1st, 2020. However, as I explained in my National Address on Monday, March 30, all other restrictions go in to effect as of tomorrow April 1st.
These stricter measures are to ensure that there are fewer people moving on the road for the next couple of days as we continue to assess the situation of the growing number of cases and do our very best to contain it. If we find that within the next few days our general public is not able to adhere to these measures which are being put in place to protect them, then we are left with no other choice but to do a complete and total shut down.
I would like to reiterate that there is no shortage of food on the island. We are making efforts to continue to ensure that the public can take care and we can take care of you. We must, however, be very cautious that we are not just planning for today, but for the coming months.
Countries all around the world with more capacity than we have are currently challenged with the capacity to deal with the COVID-19 outbreaks and we as the people are forced to adjust, change our behaviors and be patient. We need your patience and your compliance because without knowing our real numbers we cannot help you. Continue to call 914 and adhere to the orders of our police force.
Shipping and cargo companies will continue to operate as that is key to being able to provide food to our island. Funeral services and cleaning and garbage collection, of course, will continue, as well as
media outlets and public transportation. Those hotels that are still in service, will continue to operate to serve their guest only with take-out and delivery services as well as those yachting agents still serving their vessels.
The food suppliers that supply to restaurants and supermarkets will continue to be able to supply as well as bakeries. As mentioned before, only government construction and emergency services will be able to make use of construction, hardware stores, maintenance, and repair and as of tomorrow evening, only restaurants will be available to those emergency services. Therefore, tomorrow Wednesday, April 1st, is the last day for the time being that restaurants will be opened to the public. I will continue to update you on a daily basis and tomorrow during the Council of Ministers Press Briefing you will be updated once more.
As the government, we would like to ensure that you as a family and people of St. Maarten are protected. However, each and every individual has a role to play. Ensure that you have activities that you can take part with your family in your home. This is a good time to reflect. This is an excellent time to pray. As I conclude, what I ask is simple; save a life by staying at home. Stay at home because you matter. We are resilient and hopeful people and we have faith that we will get through this period. However, our practices and our behavior are necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19. The EOC ESF coordinators are all working together with you with our Council of Ministers in the best interest of you and your families.
Follow our Government Radio station – 107.9FM for official information, statements, and news updates or visit the Government website at www.sintmaartengov.org/coronavirus and our Facebook Page: Government of Sint Maarten.
I ask you to stay vigilant, informed and I implore all employees and employers of non-essential businesses to stay at home. Business owners that are forcing workers to come to work when it is not necessary do not help the current situation. All work that can be executed from home should be done so and in the next few days, curtail all non-essential activities.
This is being done to protect you. This is being done to protect the entire island. Our numbers are growing and that was expected, but we do not expect to continue to grow at Infinitum. Please be careful, stay inside and stay at home unless for essential business. If you have to travel to essential business, do ensure that you have the proper waiver and professional proof to be able to be on the roads. Our Police officers will be checking and they will be reinforcing this measure.
God bless St. Maarten and all her people as we work together; Government, community and each and every St. Maarten resident, to keep her safe.