Prime Minister and Chair of the Emergency Operations Center Silveria Jacobs, is seen talking during an emergency meeting held with the EOC and Members of Parliament on Thursday, March 12, 2020.
PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister and Chairperson of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) Silveria Jacobs announced several additional measures to mitigate the potential spread of coronavirus COVID-19, at a press conference on Friday afternoon. These include a ban on work-related travel by civil servants and avoiding personal touch, such as hugging, kissing and shaking hands.
Civil servants will not be allowed to travel for work visits until at least the end of April, said Jacobs. She also encourages all residents to avoid travel unless absolutely necessary. These measures are in addition to general travel restrictions of persons who have travelled from or have been to China (People’s Republic), Hong Kong (SAR China), Iran, Italy, Japan, Korea (Rep.), Macao (SAR China), Singapore, Spain and Germany in the past 21 days.
Jacobs also encourages a “no touch” policy, asking persons to avoid personal interactions such as hugging, kissing and shaking hands.
Jacobs announced on Thursday that there will be a ban on all large gatherings. However, the precise limit will be decided in an EOC meeting on Tuesday, March 17, according to Jacobs. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that not more than 100 persons should gather at any one place. Jacobs also encouraged workplaces to use technology to facilitate meetings and trainings as much as possible to prevent exposure.
Testing for COVID-19 is not yet available in St. Maarten. According to Jacobs, St. Maarten Laboratory Services (SLS) is assessing the option of securing COVID-19 testing through the French side, which sends its test samples to Guadeloupe.
Currently, St. Maarten would have to send any samples to the Netherlands, which will take three to four days to achieve a result. The Dutch side has yet to have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
“We are also looking at other kingdom and Caribbean partners to increase the turnaround ratio. Curaçao and Aruba are seen as viable options,” said Jacobs.
The EOC is in the process of drafting plans to cover several different outbreak scenarios, she said.
Pavilions and containers have been identified as additional facilities to house and treat COVID-19 patients and these will be placed at St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) and at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) if necessary. Containment rooms are to be built in the pavilions to further isolate severe cases.
To address St. Maarten’s capacity issues, supplies and human resources have been requested from international agencies such as the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the World Bank, said Jacobs. She confirmed that a shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) for emergency workers is to arrive in St. Maarten shortly.
The Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard (DCCG) has been put on high alert to intercept persons illegally entering the country and Dutch military assistance has been secured to help in the event of a breakdown in law and order, according to Jacobs.
Utilities company GEBE has installed hand sanitisers at its offices and equipped its staff with protective masks. She said cleaning at its facilities has also increased and is now taking place every hour. “GEBE has enacted measures to ensure uninterrupted water supply and access to enough fuel to be able to provide electricity,” said Jacobs.
The EOC has requested that Bureau Telecommunications and Post (BTP) investigate the possibility of increasing Internet bandwidth, as persons working from home will use more data.
Training on prevention methods and hygiene practices has been held with staff of GEBE, the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM, PJIA, and Port St. Maarten, said the Prime Minister.
The port has increased screening processes, as well as sanitation and hygiene protocols. It has placed additional hand sanitisers and is now constructing an isolation room for suspected COVID-19 cases.
Jacobs emphasised that false information spreading on social media is one of the biggest threats in this pandemic. “I would like to encourage persons when you receive something that is uncorroborated and not from a trusted source, meaning not a government or WHO announcement, please do not share. By refraining to share it, you are decreasing unnecessary anxiety in the population,” she said.