Prime Minister Phillip J. Pierre has warned a fifth wave is almost inevitable as he urged St. Lucians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the island could ill-afford “the luxury” of another shut down of the economy.
In a nationwide radio and television New Year’s address on Sunday night, Pierre said other countries were also experiencing rapid spikes in COVID-19 cases brought on by the more virulent variant, Omicron.
“Indeed 2021 was very difficult and challenging for our country given the negative effects of the pandemic on the health sector in particular and the entire economy as a whole,” Pierre said, extending condolences to the families of those who had lost a loved one as a result of the virus.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs reported 92 new cases of COVID-19 from a total of 576 samples, which were collected on December 30 and 31, bringing the total number of positive cases to 13, 732 with 268 being active ones. So far 301 people have died from the virus.
“Currently, there are 19 positive cases of COVID-19 admitted at the Respiratory Hospital, of which, one of these active cases is in critical care and five of them are severely ill. To date, a total of 49, 504 individuals have been fully vaccinated. Another 6, 322 are partially vaccinated and 3, 393 have received their booster shot,” the ministry said.
Pierre said the island is entering 2022 “saddled with the negative effects of COVID and a sovereign debt burden of over EC$3.9 billion (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) as well as over EC$500 million “of other debt commitments” as well as unfinished projects such as the hospital and the rehabilitation of the Hewanorra International Airport.
“Getting our public finances in order will take a herculean task of policy coherence, strategic communication and consultations. Efficient implementation. Resource mobilisation, elimination of corruption, transparency and accountability in order to achieve better economic outcomes for our nation and economy,” said Pierre, who was sworn into office in July last year.
He told the nation that “2022 must be a year of national re-assessment, rebirth and recalibration”. Pierre said that the country “will have to live with the pandemic while addressing the systematic shortfalls in education, health care, social justice, governance and infrastructure.
“The most pressing health crisis remains COVID-19. The scientific way to reduce the burden on health infrastructure and reduce death is by getting people vaccinated. Even Omicron, which is raging throughout the world right now, hospitalisation is still largely by people who are unvaccinated.
‘We cannot afford the luxury of lockdowns anymore. Our children have lost too much school, our businesses are closing. We simply cannot afford another 2020 or 2021. Omicron is just not a normal wave, it is a huge one, it can easily overwhelm our health system”.
Pierre said that while some countries are reporting that the variant is milder than previous waves “that is coming from countries where the vaccinated rats have been two and three times ours.
“We can find little comfort in one in every four St. Lucians being vaccinated after nearly an entire year of vaccine availability on our island. COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective. We no longer have the luxury of time, doubt, procrastination and delay, (it) will only bring diseases and more deaths. I urge every St. Lucian to go out and get vaccinated as a matter of urgency.
‘Every citizen has a personal responsibility to protect their lives and the lives of others. To every St. Lucian that is not yet vaccinated, I again urge you to get vaccinated,” said Pierre, who informed the nation that he is fully vaccinated and had also received a booster shot.