PM Jacobs during Wednesday’s briefing.
PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Chairperson Silveria Jacobs choked up and visibly fought off tears as she spoke about the first suspected coronavirus COVID-19 death recorded in the country on Tuesday.
“It hurts my heart and it hurts me immensely … to have to announce that there was a suspected (case) death due to COVID-19,” she said during a briefing with members of the new Council of Ministers broadcast on social media.
“Some people do not understand the daily trials and tribulations that come with being in this situation and I pray that the family and the loved ones who have lost their dearly departed will find the courage and faith to deal with it and to understand the limitations of the St. Maarten government to handle the limitations of this situation,” she said.
No details were provided on the individual. Jacobs had said on Tuesday that the patient was in self-isolation at home when they succumbed.
She stressed that every effort is being made so that the people of St. Maarten can be conscious and accept personal responsibility to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Alluding to the situation facing many countries around the world where the COVID-19 death rate is climbing, Jacobs said St. Maarten can expect that its death rate may also increase. She said French St. Martin has already experienced two COVID-19 deaths – one in St. Martin and one in Guadeloupe.
“This is not an easy time for anyone and some of our challenges are in communication,” she added, noting that the Department of Communications DComm is doing its utmost to get the messages out to the community.
She said that while St. Maarten Medical Center only has a limited number of Intensive Care Unit beds, even if the country had 1,000 beds it would be insufficient if residents are irresponsible. Where there is a high number of elderly persons, the virus will “spread like wildfire”. “We do not take any joy in announcing numbers where it is escalating,” she said.
Jacobs said each resident has a responsibility for their own health and safety. Restricting movement is not an easy task for an island like St. Maarten with invisible borders.
She still hears of people taking chances and hanging out at bars and getting their hair done at salons. She said one of the positive COVID-19 patients in French St. Martin is a salon owner who had no symptoms, but had a fever and felt unwell. She said she got a lot of flak when her hair was done, but noted that she goes to someone’s home to have her hair braided and the person upholds protocols that she established.
“We are in a crisis. The world is in a crisis,” she said, adding that St. Maarten’s finances are depleting. Funds are not going into government’s coffers due to business closures to combat the virus.
She assured residents that supermarkets will remain open. Banks are allowed to remain open so that people who need to shop for food can continue to access funds and money transfer establishments regulated by the Central Bank for Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS) are allowed, as some persons depend on remittances from family members abroad.
Residents should shop for one or two weeks and not for a month. “I am trying to avoid shutting down supermarkets, while we are preparing baskets for the more vulnerable,” she said adding that government is cognisant that some persons have not registered.
Jacobs urged persons to find a way to call the Department of Social Services to register if they have lost their job or are not being paid as a result of the current situation. “I really would not want to have people starving in this country.”
She warned that that moving forward there will be further restrictions in the hours of operation of places such as gas stations. She said there has been a lot of flak with respect to allowing electronics stores, computer hardware, software accessories and repair services to open. However, she said phones and laptops are crucial in these times with many persons now working from home. If phones and laptops are damaged, they need to be fixed so persons can get back on track.
“So yes, I will allow computer stores to remain open,” she said adding that this will be the case as long as proper hygiene methods are being adhered to.
As it relates to the current COVID-19 stats, she said there had not been any changes in the figures up to yesterday.