People of St. Maarten, Today March 20th, I come once again, to address you as Prime Minister and Chair of the EOC, to update you on the latest developments regarding COVID-19 developments on St. Maarten. I will be bringing to you, an overview in couple of aspects. The first being the social affairs aspect.
A social stimulus plan is being finalized for persons who will be directly affected by the economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 developments. We are in constant contact with our Kingdom counterparts; The Netherlands, Curacao, Aruba, who together, during video conference held yesterday, March 19, 2020, confirmed our commitment to work together to alleviate the challenges that have already started to rise as a result of the COVID-19 virus which is a National Health Emergency of International concern.
Our Dutch Kingdom partner, in the person of Minister of Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) Raymond Knops, assured he would highlight the needs of the Caribbean islands in today’s Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting which was already held in The Netherlands. Kingdom members in the caribbean have highlighted to Minister Knops, our immediate, as well as projected needs for the rest of 2020. Minister Knops has assured all 3 countries that some form of assistance, which will be formalized during the coming week in bilateral discussions will come forth. St. Maarten has already expressed in this quadripartite meeting between the 4 countries of the Kingdom, that its financial needs for financial assistance have an immediate effect.
As a basis for the social stimulus plan, a social assessment report will be conducted by Emergency Support Function 7 (ESF 7) and the ministry of VSA to determine the impact from a social perspective. ESF 7 has already identified that the approximately 1500 persons currently receiving social welfare will continue to do so, and plans are already underway to deliver care packages to them should the need arise before the end of the month. They are in constant contact with their clients and making plans for the expected increase in persons requiring social assistance.
The St. Maarten Medical Centre (SMMC) is currently expanding its capacity to be able to offer triage for COVID-19 patients at the Emergency room, as well as working on the finalization of the Pavilion together with Government, which the Steering Committee has approved the use of $2.5 million via
the NRPB trust fund which will outfit the Pavilion. The Pavilion will then contain 6 rooms, of which 5 will be quarantine rooms holding 2 persons each. Therefore, equipping it with 10 beds for quarantine purposes and the last space being a workspace for medical personnel.
This effort, has been ongoing for some weeks, and I am very happy to announce that the specifications of the quarantine rooms have been approved and ordered. We expect that they will be here shortly while the Pavilion is being constructed. Containers are also being used by SMMC to expand their capabilities for immediate care for COVID-19 related patients. I must reiterate, that as of today there is still one COVID-19 positive patient and I must update that the second confirmatory test has also come out positive. However, the spouse of COVID-19 patient 1 has tested negative.
Contact tracing of persons returning to St. Maarten or suspected of being exposed to the virus has been heightened by CPS (ESF6). 13 persons are currently being monitored as a result of both COVID-19 case 1 (St. Maarten) and the positive COVID-19 case from the French side. These persons will continue to be monitored according to CPS’ approved protocol which will be explained further.
Persons who have been identified as having traveled from countries with COVID-19 clusters are required to fill in a form that is being provided to them by the immigration officer/Pubic Health officials currently stationed at the airport informing them of what will be required in the next 14 days. They will receive a letter signed by me, and sign a document agreeing to carry out the necessary protocol at home. These documents may now be found on the government’s website at www.sintmaartengov.org/coronavirus.
I would like to take this time to explain to persons what is meant by self - isolation
a. Isolation is a medical term used to refer to the separation of ill patients from other persons to ensure the health safety of persons not ill.
b. Quarantine is for persons who may have been exposed to ill persons but are not exhibiting symptoms.
c. As we know although we are currently expanding our capacity to deal with extensive COVID-19 outbreak, we minimize capacity for such. Hence, the shut-down of travel from visitors. Therefore, persons are required to self-isolate in order to protect your loved ones and the rest of the population.
To all residents who have gotten the opportunity to return home this past week from March 13th, and have not received the letter, please call CPS at 914 or your family doctor. Passengers coming in as of today are required to fill in the forms that will be handed to them by immigration officers, requiring self-isolation. In addition, COVID-19 suspected passengers and their family must sign a mandatory isolation document wherein the isolation rules and obligations are stipulated. Passengers who have traveled to St. Maarten from Friday March 13, should download this document and to make themselves known to CPS. You are hereby also asked to voluntarily self-isolate in order to ensure the protection of your family and the population.
Finally, I would like to update you that, the shipment of PPEs (personal protective equipment), masks, etc. were received from the Netherlands via Bonaire today for further distribution by ESF 6. They are intended for St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius.
ESF 10 is conducting an assessment to determine the frequency of movements and compliancy in terms of social distancing at supermarkets and throughout other public areas and whether other measures should be taken. A regulation for social distancing for persons making use of public transportation, business and public areas will be implemented within short and published for all to know.
Let me be very clear and transparent. We are currently unaware when this crisis will be over. We plan and hope that within two weeks the worst would have subsided. However, that remains to be seen. In the meantime, we, as a country sharing a border with French St. Maarten are trying to have some form of normalcy and ensure the safety and security of our population. This is why social-distancing has been implemented and will be enforced. If for whatever reason the recommended social distancing is not being adhered to, EOC will decide to upscale measures, which will lead to a total shut down and minimum mobility for the population for at least 2 full weeks. Businesses allowed to be operational according to our list of our essential business will now be mandated to close at 8 pm to minimize movement and the spread of COVID-19. This goes into effect, tomorrow Saturday, March 21, 2020 (ESF 10).
Public order and Government services
Public order is being maintained and monitored by ESF 5. Chief Carl John has updated me that there have been no unnecessary activity and there will be more patrols to ensure that the ‘minimized movement’ is upheld.
Essential government services such as Labor & Social Affairs, Receivers, and the Civil Registry Department will be provided with a hotline to be accessible for emergency cases as well as to schedule appointments in the coming days. If the proper protocols which we have put in place to protect our civil servants are not adhered to, all public services will then be moved to -appointments only- service to avoid much as possible contact. A communique with the changes in hours of operations from our government operations and how to access government services, will be communicated in my next press conference, until then the services will be provided. Government is recommending all essential businesses that have been allowed to remain open will designate the first hour of services to senior citizens as well as vulnerable persons such as pregnant women and persons with children.
We believe that we are keeping the COVID-19 virus properly contained, but we are relying on you, the people of St. Maarten to do what we have to do. Each and every business, and service and institution which has been granted the opportunity to be open, to maintain the highest level of hygiene for themselves, their clients as well as their staff and to ensure that social distancing is being practiced in and around the establishment.
I hope to have properly informed everyone about the steps Government is taking. Realize that we need you, and you are part of the solution as well as part of the problem. I look forward to hearing continuous good news from each of my ESFs and I thank the ESF coordinators for the contributions they are making for the EOC. I also thank all the Ministers in my cabinet as well as Parliament who have continuously given great suggestions to improve upon, regulations that have been put in place already.
Today, March 20th, we are yet with one case. We pray to God that this continues and that each one of us does our part to ensure that.
God Bless St. Maarten! Be Safe.