At the press conference Sunday were (from left) Collective Prevention Services head Eva Lista-De Weever; Dr. Samay Nadery from St. Maarten Medical Centre; Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs; Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Ministry Secretary-General Miguel de Weever; and St. Maarten Tourism Bureau Director May Ling Chun. (Robert Luckock photo)
~ No suspected or confirmed cases on the Dutch side ~
PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, at a press conference convened Sunday afternoon, said the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has been activated in connection with two confirmed cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in French St. Martin. There are no suspected or confirmed cases in St. Maarten, she stressed.
The French couple, currently in isolation in Louis-Constant Fleming Hospital in Marigot for 14 days of monitoring, are the parents of the man who self-isolated at his home in St. Barths. The parents originally arrived in St. Maarten on February 21 and transited to St. Barths before attempting to leave the island with Air France on Friday, February 28, after travelling by ferry from St. Barths to Great Bay Marina and then by shuttle to Princess Juliana International Airport.
“These two passengers did not display symptoms, but were flagged because of where they originated from,” Jacobs explained. “Certain areas in France and other countries have been highlighted as being of concern and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated the list this week for carriers coming from those regions.”
New French-side hospital director Marie-Antoinette Lampis-Pattus confirmed Sunday evening that the couple had tested positive without having any symptoms, but the son in St. Barths had symptoms of the virus. French regional health authority ARS said there was no cause for concern over the three patients.
Two other suspected cases, St. Martin residents who returned from vacation in L’Oise, France, have been tested and their results came back negative on Sunday evening, ARS reported.
Jacobs commended the cooperation between Dutch and French authorities, police, Immigration, and public health who collaborated on Friday to make sure those passengers were isolated. “The Dutch side is an open hub and we must remain vigilant,” she emphasised.
She assured that stringent public health protocols are in place and travel restrictions have been increased or heightened as well as scrutiny in place for incoming arrivals at Princess Juliana International Airport and at the harbour. Awareness of hygiene practices have been disseminated for the schools and for parents by the Department of Public Health. She said emergency isolation locations can be established as and when needed.
“Vigilance and heightened protocols are a must for all front-line personnel; for example, Immigration officers, medical personnel, customer service representatives in all industries,” Jacobs continued. “Collective Prevention Services (CPS) stands ready to assist any of these industries if more information or workshops are needed. All our international and regional partners have been alerted. We know what our status is, we know what our state of readiness is in terms of supplies and locations for isolation.”
CPS head Eva Lista-de Weever said her department has been meeting with its French-side counterparts in the last few weeks with regard to COVID-19 to assess preparedness and response, efforts and measures, as well as heightening communication so both sides are aware of what is happening on either side of the island. She described the communication channel as “strong.”
“Over the past two weeks we’ve been exchanging protocols and case definitions,” said De Weever. “They follow case definitions in France and we follow those in the Netherlands. It’s important to be collaborating and exchanging information. We also met with St. Maarten Medical Center, representatives of medical practitioners, and with laboratory partners to assess their readiness and to assess where we would need to support them and in turn if they need to support us.
“We also met the management of the Red Cross for education and awareness for the public. We also discussed enhancement of our protocols at ports of entry – airport, harbour, and Immigration services – making sure that we are all aware of follow-up measures if a suspected case arrives in St. Maarten.”
Internist Dr. Samay Nadery of St. Maarten Medical Center said not everyone transmits the virus and not everyone gets sick, but once one is infected symptoms will take 14 days to appear. When symptoms appear, there is a strong chance of transmission human-to-human which is why isolation is so important.
“Good hand hygiene, good protection, avoiding contact with sick people, is the main defence to prevent transmission,” he said.
He said protocols at the hospital were updated just two days ago. The hospital is able to take into care four coronavirus cases, but if ventilation is needed for a very sick patient they will have to be transported abroad. Authorities are in contact with other countries to see how that transfer will be done if needed.
St. Maarten Tourism Bureau Director May Ling Chun said the office has been in close contact with all its stakeholders, which have taken precautions and beefed up the information for their clients. WHO info-graphic posters have been provided to all establishments. St. Maarten Yacht Club is aware of the protocols ahead of the 40th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and arriving yachts will be subjected to precautionary procedures.
“We need to protect our visitors and it’s important to stick to the facts and official information, because in this social media age and group chats, we ask that passing information be kept in control,” she said.