Address by Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris on the new Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

ADDRESS TO THE NATION BY DR. THE HONOURABLE TIMOTHY HARRIS, PRIME MINISTER OF ST. KITTS AND NEVIS ON THE NEW CORONAVIRUS DISEASE (COVID-19) SUNDAY MARCH 8, 2020

My fellow citizens and residents, I wish to address the matter of the new Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). I do so against the backdrop of several official presentations on the subject spearheaded by our Ministry of Health (MOH), including two (2) very important press conferences and several releases by our Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in particular, and the Ministry of Health in general. The Government of St. Kitts & Nevis wishes to assure our citizens and residents that all the necessary steps are being taken to ensure that the Federation is at a high level of preparedness for this outbreak.

Since the discovery of the COVID-19 in China in December 2019, we have witnessed the rapid spread of the new corona virus to other countries and regions including Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

A check of the official World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at 1:00 PM on Sunday, March 8 revealed that across 101 reporting countries 105,523 persons have been diagnosed with this new virus and 3.4 percent of those affected have died. In St. Kitts and Nevis, we have no confirmed cases at this time.

Given the spread of the new virus, it is highly likely that it will reach our shores. Our government has therefore been on high alert and the CMO has assured that we are taking every precaution and making all necessary preparations to respond, and contain the spread of the virus. All of us must take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves, our families, communities and our beloved Federation. We must respond appropriately and calmly at all times.

Much about this coronavirus is still unknown and uncertain. The World Health Organization (WHO) has informed us that majority of the persons with COVID-19 are adults over 20 years of age. The disease is not prevalent among children. Children are more resilient and only experience a mild form of this disease. Most persons (80%) affected by this disease, experience mild illness and recover without complications. However, 20% of persons experience severe illness and require hospitalization. Older adults with underlying chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma are at risk for severe illness.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO MINIMIZE OUR RISKS

We must all accept our individual responsibility for: (1) boosting our immune system and (2) helping to curb the potential spread of this coronavirus disease (COVID-19). We can boost our immune system by eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking adequate water, getting enough rest, exercising and taking multivitamins/supplements. The best defense against COVID-19 is practicing good hand hygiene.

The Government of St. Kitts & Nevis has embarked on a number of preparedness and response interventions to complement these individual actions. The Ministry of Health continues to inform and update the public about COVID-19. There are on-going training sessions for the medical and public health response teams. The Ministry has ordered extra supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies to ensure appropriate management of persons, should the virus reach us.

As part of our national response mechanism, a ‘COVID-19 National Working Group’ was established. I wish to commend the group for its excellent work to date. Mr. Abdias Samuel, National Disaster Coordinator, chairs this working group and it consists of key representatives of the relevant ministries and departments, including the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Immigration Officer, Comptroller of Customs, along with representatives from the St. Kitts & Nevis Defense Force and the Royal St. Christopher & Nevis Police Force. The Working Group was instrumental in strengthening surveillance at all the ports of entry in the Federation, and in conducting a successful simulation exercise to test the Alert and Communication Systems of our national response mechanism. The simulation exercise was successfully executed.

This coronavirus outbreak will affect the Federation’s health system, its social structure and the economy. The response to this disease requires an all-of-society and all-of-government approach. The COVID-19 National Working Group has already conducted sensitization sessions with a number of government and private sector entities, including the St. Kitts and Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, TDC, Development Bank, St. Christopher & Nevis Social Security Board and National Bank etc. They are all committed to supporting the Government’s preparedness and response activities. The Committee remains open to provide similar technical support to other entities.

The Ministry of Health continues to update and inform the public about COVID-19. I wish to remind you, our citizens and residents, that the Ministry of Health is the local reliable official source for such information. I call on all persons to cease and desist from sharing false information about the virus. Please check with the Ministry of Health (@ 467 1172 or 467 1108) or your licensed health practitioner when in doubt. We must also debunk and intentionally stop the spread of false information. At a time when our Federation is under threat from the virus, we should avoid playing party politics. Our citizens and residents must be wary of those who seek to use a time like this to further their own interests, ahead of those of all Kittitians and Nevisians and all our residents here.

The Ministry of Health and the Working Group continue to collaborate with all local, regional and international partners such as WHO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), and ally countries to guarantee an effective disease outbreak response. The Government is doing all it can to attain the highest level of preparedness for this highly contagious disease.

May God bless us all and protect us from all harm.

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