Students assembled at Gwendoline van Putten School. (File photo)
- EUSTATIUS–Government Commissioner Marnix van Rij and Deputy Government Commissioner Alida Francis announced Wednesday that all schools in St. Eustatius would be closed. They also promised a crackdown on violators of the self-quarantine rules in connection with the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.
The St. Eustatius Health Department GGD said there are currently 67 residents in self-quarantine in Statia, a decrease of eight persons since Monday, March 23.
The island had tested seven persons for COVID-19 and all persons tested were negative for the virus. Van Rij said COVID-19 has not reached the island up to now.
Self-quarantine is considered an extremely important measure taken by individuals so they can monitor their own health for 14 days and make sure that they are symptom-free. After these two weeks they are free to engage in public life again as permitted, Van Rij explained.
Emergency measures were put in place as of March 18 to limit the possibility of the virus coming to Statia’s shores.
“In a perfect world, everyone would respect the self-quarantine rules. Many of our fellow citizens are following the self-quarantine rules, but unfortunately some are not. This has put everyone at risk and that is why we [the public entity St. Eustatius – Ed.] have taken the decision to give the police the right to fine and take persons who are breaching the self-quarantine rules into custody,” Van Rij said.
He said this was already possible by law, but the public entity prefers to use the Police Force to educate the public rather than punish individuals. However, “this has not stopped the few people who have refused to adhere to the law. Therefore, we are obliged to implement stronger measures effective immediately.”
Van Rij said he would inform Chief Inspector of Basic Police Care St. Eustatius Robelto Hodge on the matter on Wednesday evening.
Francis said the public entity has met frequently with school principals and directors, schoolboard chairpersons, day-care centres, afterschool programmes and other educational stakeholders over the past week.
The educational stakeholders agreed that schools were to be kept open to offer pupils and students continuity in education as well as structure and support during these difficult and uncertain times. However, a unanimous decision was made on Tuesday, March 24, by all education stakeholders and endorsed by the government commissioners that all primary and secondary schools, day-care centres and afterschool programmes would be closed because of the decreasing supply of hygienic materials.
The closures will take effect on Monday, March 30, and will last until April 15. These dates may change due to the rapidly evolving nature of the COVID-19 situation.
“On a positive note, schools have worked out comprehensive contingency plans to ensure our children are able to continue following their education at home,” Francis said.
She said the local government is aware that some families do not have a computer at home. Therefore, schools and the government are investigating how they can monitor learning in alternative ways.
Local telecommunication company Eutel has offered to provide Internet installation at a discounted rate. If the household has a fixed telephone line connection they will be able to add Internet installation free of charge.
This offer will be available to households with children enrolled in groups 7 and 8 of the elementary schools, and for the exam and pre-exam classes of Gwendoline van Putten Secondary School.
“We are aware that these closures will impact the island in a profound way, as parents and guardians must either stay away from work to supervise their children or find alternative day-care options. This also means that our local economy will be put under pressure. We are fully aware of this and are doing everything we can to lessen the impact of this difficult but necessary decision,” Francis said.
Queen Beatrix Medical Centre (QBMC) is open only for emergency cases. Persons are advised to call the 912 hotline and not go to the medical centre. QBMC is currently building an isolation room.
Due to an “acute medical situation” which occurred this past weekend, two of the four medical doctors in St. Eustatius are currently absent. The public entity and the local health department GGD have made a contingency plan and announced that they have found a suitable replacement.
The replacement doctor is a resident of Statia with all the required qualifications and experience in the medical field. Francis said this person has agreed to work with the GGD and other stakeholders to educate the community about the dangers of COVID-19.
QBMC is in negotiation with several sister islands to fill the gap. Francis said the local government is requesting that the island’s community “remain calm in these times.”