CASTRIES, St Lucia, Wednesday April 1, 2020 – St Lucia is now in lockdown, with authorities confirming that there has been community spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
In an address to the nation last night, just hours before this morning’s 5 a.m. curfew began, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet announced that the restrictions would remain until April 7 at 5 a.m.
On the same day that St Lucia recorded an additional four COVID-19 cases – pushing the confirmed cases which were all diagnosed within the space of two weeks to 13 – Chastanet said that after discussion with Cabinet colleagues and other stakeholders, “we have determined at this point that we have to expand our shutdown of the country”.
“People will only be allowed to leave their place of residence for medical emergencies. Supplies will be provided to the poor and vulnerable by NEMO [the National Emergency Management Organization],” he said.
“A person can only leave their place of residence upon written authorization by NEMO, inclusive of essential services. People are not permitted to go to the beach, go for a walk, or to visit their neighbour.”
Even supermarkets will remain closed during the lockdown.
“The Cabinet had to make this decision based on the evidence at hand and also recognizing the dilemma that we are in…. We can still get through this with minimizing the loss of lives, but it’s going to require a more stringent approach to social distancing,” the Prime Minister said.
“We have two choices. We can go through this very difficult and onerous curfew and remain in control of our destiny. And by control of our destiny what we mean is we can help determine how many people are going to lose their lives. That’s through our efforts.
“The other alternative is to allow the virus to spread quicker. The result of that is that it’s going to put tremendous amount of stress on our health services. And even though your government has done everything it can to prepare for this eventuality, we are reminded every day when we see Governors of New York and Connecticut, leaders of other countries that are much larger and much wealthier than St Lucia struggling to be able to get resources to deal with the number of cases that they have. If we allow this virus to spread uncontrollably, then the number of people that are going to be requiring hospitalization is going to be well beyond our means,” he added.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Sharon Belmar-George, speaking just before Prime Minister Chastanet’s address, said the current trend in confirmed COVID-19 cases indicates that there is local transmission and that the required infection prevention measures are not being adhered to by residents as recommended by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.
“Our urgent single priority at this point is to significantly slow down and contain community spread of this virus to protect the health and safety of every individual. As such, more drastic measures are now necessary to reduce the impact at this stage,” she said.
The new measures replace an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that took effect on Monday night and was to remain in place until April 14. That had been preceded by an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that was to end on April 5.
After announcing the latest measures last night, Prime Minister Chastanet took to social media to defend the sudden lockdown.
“It has become absolutely necessary to elevate our State of Emergency to a 24-hour shutdown for the next seven days, until April 7th, 2020,” he wrote on Facebook.
“The tough decision to close supermarkets with immediate effect is due to the fact that we are currently experiencing community spread of COVID-19. By allowing supermarkets to remain open even if for just one more day, would defeat the purpose of social distancing as there will be a mass rush to purchase goods, possibly allowing for further spread of the virus.”