by Eulana Weekes
The National Emergency COVID-19 Task Force hosted its farewell COVID-19 Press Briefing for St Kitts and Nevis on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Dr Hazel Laws, the Federation’s Chief Medical Officer, reviewed the timeline of the Federation’s approach to combating COVID-19 in her final presentation.
“Our response to COVID 19 spans two and a quarter years from January 2020 to present. So it was on December 31, 2019, that the World Health Organisation (WHO) brought this unusual virus and unusual presentation of Respiratory Tract Illness, being identified in China. In January of 2020, the WHO declared it a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern; then on March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a “Global Pandemic.”
The ‘unusual’ virus was given the name COVID 19 by the World Health Organisation and birthed variants including Alpha, Gamma, Beta, Lambda, Delta, Omicron and their sub-variants.
“It was January 23, 2020, that the Ministry of Health increased its presence at the Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw International Airport when we strengthened our Port Health Surveillance and began screening inbound passengers.”
As noted in the presentation, the virus was identified as a new type of Coronavirus and on March 25, 2020, the former Minister of Health, the Hon Wendy Phipps announced the first two positive cases in the Federation. These individuals were a 57-year-old female and a 21-year-old male, both citizens of St Kitts and Nevis, who returned from a recent trip to New York. Also on March 25 2020, borders were officially closed, the National Emergency Operation Centre was activated and regular meetings and press briefings were hosted. Three days later on March 28, 2020, the Federal Government of St Kitts and Nevis, declared a State of Emergency.
In an effort to restrict movement and keep citizens and residents safe, the first lockdown was launched from March 31 to April 25 2020.
VACCINATION CAMPAIGN AND TRAVEL PROTOCOLS
On February 22 2021, the first batch of persons, led by Medical Chief of Staff at the Joseph N France General Hospital, Dr Cameron Wilkinson, received their first dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine. These vaccines totalled 2,000 doses, donated by the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica.
However, the Federal Government, acting upon advice from the COVID-19 Task Force, announced a second lockdown for two weeks, dated June 12 to June 26, 2021. The lockdowns restricted students from attending school and also affected work and social life.
After more than a year of no cruise ship arrivals, the Cruise Industry opened in July 2021 with the return of the Seabourn Odyssey. Protocols were put in place to manage the Pandemic situation, which included bubble tours conducted by travel approved tour guides only, who were vaccinated, went through training programs and received an official decal signifying authorisation to operate.
On September 1, 2021, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, rolled out an additional vaccine, Pfizer/BioNTech, eligible for individuals 12 years and older.
Throughout the course of the Pandemic, there were several changes to the Health and Travel Protocols. These were outlined in detail by Dr Laws.
“In terms of the Health and travel protocols that have kept us safe, these are some landmark dates. It was October 31 that we reopened our airports to all inbound air travellers. At that time they had to complete 14 days of Quarantine and then it was May 1, 2021, the quarantine period for fully vaccinated inbound air travellers was reduced from 14 days to nine; and then, we had a further reduction in this period on July 12, 2021; and then October 6, 2021, the quarantine period was reduced to 24 hours. On December 11, 2021, all inbound vaccinated travellers could enter and integrate into our society without any period of quarantine. Now, on March 1, the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated returning nationals, citizens and residents, can spend or complete their seven day quarantine period at home, without the security facility.”
Most recently, the Cabinet approved that on April 1, 2022, all inbound travellers now have the option to submit a negative Rapid Antigen Test for entry into the Federation, which must be done one day prior to arrival. RT-PCR Tests continue to be accepted but this test must be done 72 hours or three days prior to arrival.
The Chief Medical Officer made it clear that self-administered tests or home kit tests and tests using saliva samples will not be accepted.
The Federation of St Kitts and Nevis has experienced four waves of COVID-19 transmission since it began in March 2020.
The first wave of COVID-19 was from March 24 to April 15, 2020, presenting 15 confirmed cases. However, between the period April 15 to May 19, 2021, whilst the borders were opened, 30 positive cases were added to the total. These were all imported cases, from inbound travellers. During the 2nd wave, May 19 to July 15, 2021, 610 confirmed positive cases were added to the total and three COVID-19 related deaths were recorded in that period.
It took three months, August 15 to November 15, 2021, to contain the third wave of the virus. During such time 2,167 cases were detected and 25 deaths were confirmed. It also took three months to contain the 4th wave of COVID-19 transmission. Wave four began on Christmas Eve 2021 until March 29, 2022, which led to 2,727 positive cases recorded in the fourth wave and 15 related deaths.
Over the past two and a quarter years, 43 persons have passed away due to COVID-19 related conditions, 26 males and 17 females. The first death was recorded on June 17, 2021, and the most recent death occurred on March 28, 2022. Dr Laws shared some important data in this regard.
“About two-thirds of the cases were males, so there are a preponderance of males who have died of COVID. A majority of the cases were unvaccinated; almost 84 percent and most were older adults over 60 and with chronic underlying conditions.”
The COVID-19 Press Briefing on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, according to health officials, was the final of its kind. Citizens and residents were encouraged to be vigilant and practise personal responsibility, which includes mask-wearing, hand washing and hand sanitising.