Govt. developing economic stimulus plan
PHILIPSBURG–The government of St. Maarten is busy developing an economic stimulus plan to deal with the potential economic fallout from the coronavirus disease COVID-19, which is spreading rapidly globally resulting in the slowing and shutting down of economies around the world.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs told Members of Parliament (MPs) on Monday that the potential economic impact of the virus, is expected to be “even more devastating to our economy than in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.”
“We are already experiencing a complete halt of tourism as of (today) Tuesday, March 17, for at least two weeks. The slow season has effectively come prematurely and will be felt for a longer period than we had anticipated or are accustomed too,” Jacobs said during the “urgent” public meeting, which was about COVID-19.
“We anticipate that our economy will need a boost to prevent a complete recession and to maintain jobs. That is why discussions with relevant stakeholders are being had and the Government is busy developing an economic stimulus plan to deal with the potential economic fallout.”
She said the stimulus plan is also to deal with the social aspect such as maintenance of jobs and community development and will be very essential for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). “Unfortunately, I cannot go into the details as these are still being fleshed out. This too is being looked at and has not been forgotten. We are assessing the various financial funds that are being made available both in the Kingdom and internationally in order to finance this stimulus Plan and are engaging all partners,” she said.
She said the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which she chairs, is in full deployment. “The situation is very fluid, and measures are continuously being taken to expand on our preparation as well as capacity to deal with the COVID-19 international crisis and the eventuality of a COVID-19 outbreak on St. Maarten.”
Currently, St. Maarten remains COVID-19 free, with no confirmed cases. “We know that many of our sister islands can no longer state this fact. Curaçao now has three confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 40 persons who are currently being monitored. Meanwhile, Aruba has two confirmed cases. We are in close contact with them as well as our other Kingdom partners to collaborate as much as possible in mitigating the spread.”
French St. Martin continues to deal with its two confirmed COVID-19 cases. “We look forward to hearing about the outcome of the (re)testing of those patients to determine if the patients having spent considerable time in quarantine are cleared of the COVID-19 and are ready to be let back into society,” she said noting that French and Dutch were to meet at 2:00pm on Monday to determine how to move forward given the current situation.
The new travel restrictions announced over the weekend, that apply to the US, Canada, the UK and all of Europe will go into effect as of today, Tuesday and will remain in effect for two weeks. The current travel restrictions include passengers and airline crew who have been in China (People’s Republic), Hong Kong (SAR China), Iran, Japan, Korea (Republic), Macao (SAR China) or Singapore in the past 21 days are not allowed to transit or enter St. Maarten. This does not apply to legal residents of Anguilla, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Barthelemy, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Maarten/St. Martin. It also does not apply to passengers arriving in St. Maarten on flights that departed before 23:59 Atlantic Standard Time on March 16, 2020. It also does not apply to passengers who are specialists with evidence of traveling at the invitation of the Government of St. Maarten.
Also restricted from entering or transiting in St. Maarten are passengers who have, in the past 21 days, have been to Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland (Republic), Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, USA or United Kingdom.
This does not apply to legal residents of Anguilla, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Barthelemy, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Maarten/St. Martin. It also does not apply to passengers arriving in St. Maarten on flights that departed before 23:59 Atlantic Standard Time on March 16. It does not apply to airline crew as well as passengers who are specialists with evidence of traveling at the invitation of the Government of St. Maarten.
Residents of St. Maarten and crew members must self-quarantine for 14 days.
“These travel restrictions do not apply to St. Maarten/St. Martin residents, as well as residents and nationals of the surrounding islands who utilise Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) as a transit point. Travelers from around the Caribbean region are not restricted unless they have travelled to the listed areas in the past 21 days,” she stressed.
Commercial and private/chartered airlines will be allowed to land and take-off after the March 16 deadline date to facilitate visitors, who are currently on the island, or neighbouring islands, who are scheduled to travel out via PJIA in the coming weeks to return to their home country. Returning residents of St. Maarten/St. Martin and the surrounding islands, who usually transit through PJIA, invited specialists and other technical assistants, to enter the country with valid travel documents.
“These travel restrictions were implemented to further protect to population from an outbreak. The implementation date was delayed some three days after the announcement to allow residence and nationals the chance to come back home. All residents and nationals traveling back to St. Maarten from the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom or other hotspots during this period, are recommended to monitor their health for 14-days for consistent cough, fever or respiratory problems (consistent with COVID-19) and to self-isolate – meaning to stay at home, preferably also separated from other members of the family and especially from vulnerable groups. If you live alone, you should get family or friends to deliver what you may need at the door.”
Persons who experience COVID-19 symptoms should call their family physician. “Do not go to your doctor or the medical centre. During the phone call with your doctor, you will be advised further what actions should be taken.”
Cargo flights/vessels bringing in food supplies, household goods, oil, gas, as well as medicine will continue. Also allowed, will be travel by technical and medical assistants whether via commercial or chartered airlines.
“I cannot stress enough, in the light of the unrest that I have witnessed, that there is no food shortage on the island. There is no reason to engage in panic buying or hoarding of food. There is a sufficient supply of food and medication on the island. We remain in constant contact with our suppliers and have been assured that replenishments will continue.”
Concerning social gatherings in the country, Jacobs said new permits will not be granted for gatherings of more than 100 persons. Permits which have already been issued relating to gatherings of more than 100 persons will be postponed until further notice. “The ministerial regulation to legitimize this will be finalized today and published. The government also strongly recommends that the community practice ‘social distancing,’ which means that persons in a public setting should keep a distance of at least one meter from each other under certain settings. Social distancing also means refraining from hugging, kissing and shaking hands. Nobody will be insulted, as a people known for being friendly, we simply have to adjust our behaviour for the foreseeable future. All institutions, businesses, organisations, religious services and other entities should adhere to these recommendations in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and should take special measures to minimise the possibility of an outbreak,” she said.
Currently, testing for the COVID-19 virus is being carried out through the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM and takes three to four days to receive the result of a patient.
The St. Maarten Laboratory Services (SLS) is currently assessing the option of securing COVID-19 testing through the French side who currently test via Guadeloupe and other Kingdom and Caribbean counterparts in order to increase the turn-around test ratio. Currently, SLS is able to assess patients that have flu and cold-like symptoms for 18 different viruses, which is the first step in the process of ruling out the COVID-19 virus. These results are available after one hour.
The St. Maarten Medical Centre is currently in preparations to increase its capacity in the event of an outbreak. Pavilions and containers have been identified as alternate locations for COVID-19 patients to increase isolation spaces within the hospital. Alternate locations to house non-COVID-19 patients are being finalised as well to free up more space at SMMC should that be necessary. Cooperation, materials, supplies and technical and medical personnel have been requested from international agencies (UNDAC, PAHO, World Bank, RIVM and other Kingdom Partners). Some of the requested supplies and material have arrived and will continue to arrive in the next few weeks.
“We continue to engage all relevant stakeholders and various meetings are scheduled with stakeholders both internationally and regionally in order to keep the communication lines open and to coordinate necessary steps to continue to prepare, prevent and respond to this International Health Crisis. The various ESFs are constantly offering updates and are being monitored by the EOC,” she said.