This is the News Single Layout page. This element exists only to be referenced in JS
Attorney General Reflects on the Early Stages of the War on COVID 19 During 2020
During his presentation on the 2021 Budget on 21st December 2020 Attorney General Hon. Vincent Byron took time out to outline the St. Kitts and Nevis modus operandi in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The following is a collated excerpt from the AG’s speech to the Parliament which shines a brilliant light on the functional partnerships that were forged between the government, allied agencies and other stakeholders:
Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Hon. Vincent Byron
“In early January, it became evident that this virus that started in Wuhan China was making its way around the globe. Prime Minister Harris and the Team Unity administration was alerted by our health professionals and by NEMA (the National Emergency Management Agency); and the National Disaster Mitigation Council was mobilized. We did not wait until it was declared a pandemic to begin our preparations.
We began a robust national education program for all levels of health care workers, citizens and residents; so that they could be aware of the new viral disease COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic [on] March 11th 2020 but Mr. Speaker we were not caught flat footed like many other countries had been. We followed the science and the advice of the W.H.O…..
We (and when I say we I’m speaking about those of us who sat on the National Disaster Mitigation Council that oversees and works with NEMA: an inter-governmental, Inter-departmental, inter-ministerial council across government – the whole of government that is divided into ten committees – a council that was set up and we [only] normally hear about primarily at the time of hurricanes…when hurricanes are coming…shelters being prepared… the Public Works, Utilities, a whole range of public services as well as private sector inter-dependent groups who meet to ensure that we in St. Kitts and Nevis prepare…are ready to take on any disaster)…. And so the National Disaster Mitigation Council working with NEMA and with our health experts mobilized…We mobilized. We began a robust  education program and we had not been caught flat footed.
We developed a national strategic preparedness and response plan for COVID-19 with the aim to do four things Mr. Speaker: 1. To slow and stop transmission of this disease; 2. To prevent outbreaks and delay the spread of the disease; 3. [to] provide optimized care for all patients especially the seriously ill; and 4. [to] minimize the impact of the epidemic on [our] health systems, social services and on economic activity.
Our approach, Mr. Speaker, has been one of a whole of society approach. There has been coordination to support preparedness and response; including the health, transport, travel, trade, finance, security and other sectors.
We attempted to sensitize the public to their active role in the response and stressed personal responsibility in this fight. We enhanced our hospital and community preparedness plans to ensure that space, staffing and supplies are adequate for a surge in patient care needs. We continually assessed where we were and the effectiveness of what we had accomplished and used that information to plan future preparedness and response activities.
Mr. Speaker, we are continually monitoring the markets for new approved products to aid in the fight: be it laboratory, diagnostics, therapeutics and, or vaccines, and the Team Unity administration injected some $16 Million into our health care system to bring us to such a state of readiness for this war against COVID-19, and this was done utilizing a number of different ways.
You would have heard Mr. Speaker that on the 17th of March this year , the Health Emergency Operating Centre (HEOC) …. was mobilized… activated and located at the Joseph N. France Hospital Conference Room and the Ministry of Health Conference Room where our team met on a regular basis; virtually or in person to address the crisis. I say ‘virtually’, Mr. Speaker, because it’s a word that we hear [very] often nowadays…but what it meant is that the Chief Medical Officer who chairs the Health Emergency Operating Centre, The Medical Officer of Health [on] Nevis…Dr. Laws [on] St. Kitts…[on] Nevis Dr. Judy Nisbett…other medical fraternity…. would meet daily…every morning. There was this constant exchange of ideas working and information across the Federation as our health professionals got mobilized. Key to this as well would have been the Medical Chief of Staff of the Joseph N. France General Hospital….and very early Mr. Speaker, we started with continuing medical education for all levels of staff re COVID-19.
We took this educational activity across the Federation to every school, major businesses, nursing care institutions and [the] prison. We were keen to ensure that everyone in St. Kitts and Nevis was aware of what was happening with COVID.
Our knowledge of COVID “ain’ just happened so”. It was strategically dealt with and we worked very hard to ensure that the populace got to know about it.
Our team had a virtual conference…by Zoom with Chi Mei Centre [in] Taiwan. That’s a 17,000 bed institution with a 100 bed ICU…We shared ideas of best practices re the management of COVID-19 patient and health institution preparedness. We prepared an infection prevention and control guidance manual that informed health care persons at the institutions re protocols in dealing with every aspect of the COVID-19 patients, including after death. A HELP line was set up…You dial 311…to address the public concerns and this was operational 24/7. We had volunteers. People volunteered to come and work through the night. People who had day jobs would come and put in a six-hour shift, an eight-hour shift and worked very, very diligently. All of us owe these people a debt of gratitude [along with] all those who worked in the system.
In the early days of the pandemic, this happened when not much was known about the virus and there was widespread panic. We attempted Mr. Speaker to keep the public informed with regular public service announcements, press conferences and filming interviews with the government’s SKNIS; and everybody in St. Kitts and Nevis MUST recall those daily briefings at NEOC…every afternoon there was a meeting….some fifty-eight of them. I could say that I [myself] attended forty-nine….but we made sure that the public was made aware of what was happening at every move
We made structural changes to the emergency room at our main hospital, physically separating the treatment section for patients with flu-like illnesses from those with other medical emergencies. We augmented the physician staff in the emergency room by adding seven extra doctors to the usual team of nine. We placed a hold on elective surgeries,…meaning no routine operations in general surgery, orthopedics, [plastics] gynecology, etc. so that every doctor can have had a laser eyed focus on fighting this pandemic in the early stages.
We augmented our staff with help from outside. Lest we forget, thirty specialist nurses and four critical care specialists….doctors were brought into the Federation from Cuba. Twenty-five of those nurses are deployed [on] St. Kitts along with three of the critical care specialists. The others were deployed to Nevis. They are all still here. We’re not taking any ‘chance’ with this COVID. The Joseph N. France Hospital was identified as the institution that would house patients with COVID-19 and the Private Ward with fifteen (15) single rooms is the ward being used with a plan to command more of the hospital if needed. Other institutions (Mary Charles and Pogson hospitals) were also placed in a state of preparedness…and I could go on and on Mr. Speaker with the preparations that were done…supplies and equipment,….ventilators…. We have gotten over thirty in our country…infra-red thermometers, PPEs…protective gear, personal protective equipment where you have clothes to protect those workers who are on the front line….nebulizers, portable x-ray machines, defibrillators, and we even had two new ambulances…just to name a few.
Mr. Speaker, our first imported case arrived on a plane [on] 25th March 2020, but we were prepared. We were ready. During the year, we had continued our robust testing, isolation and quarantine program. We ensured that all who needed to be tested were tested using the gold standard PCR test and isolated all positive patients and quarantined anyone with a potential exposure.
Mr. Speaker, we did not hesitate. When we had our first case, we closed our borders in a timely manner on March 25th to curb the number of cases being imported and successfully flattened our curve and prevented an overwhelming of our health system. We imposed a nation[wide] lockdown to contain the virus and was one of the few nations to avoid community spread to date.
The National Emergency Operating Centre was activated to coordinate the national response required using a multi sector[al] and multi-stakeholder approach. We successfully held (and this is critical) constitutionally due elections during this period; ensuring every citizen exercise their right to vote while abiding by COVID-19 protocols to prevent spread….and then we slowly reopened our country…internally to begin generating economic activity while we continued our fight against the virus…and then we saw a wider reopening of our borders on October 31st after significant changes were made to the airports…RLB and Vance Amory airports.
I have said this…I’ve given this detailed outline Mr. Speaker, to show that this government….this Team Unity government has taken this COVID-19 pandemic with the utmost seriousness…and so all of this year, everyone in St. Kitts and Nevis…all Kittitians and Nevisians no matter where you are in this world must be proud of our country because we have successfully contained this COVID-19. It is not a small thing Mr. Speaker… and we will continue fighting to protect our people here in St. Kitts and Nevis. We have seen success in containing this virus with the prescription of the non-pharmaceuticals…that is, social and physical distancing, Don’t get too close to everybody….No mass gatherings…wearing masks…hand sanitizing…and proper cough etiquette.
We have had no major hospitalizations. We have had no major hospitalizations…and as yet we have had no deaths in St. Kitts and Nevis.
We have been able to hold strain until a vaccine arrives. There are now two vaccines with over 90% efficacy…and this is not the time for us to drop our guard. We[‘ve] got to hold strain. Our people must know (and they get it) that this is only for a time. This too will pass…and those of us who want to go on a rampage….Take it easy…Take it easy…It too will pass…
We are a model for the rest of the world and we need to be proud…each and every one of us….that this is how you do it.
We have positioned ourselves by signing on to the covax facility; which would ensure that we will receive the vaccine when it’s available globally.
We all have had to make personal sacrifices in this successful fight thus far against this deadly virus…and for the first time in our lifetime (the first time) we have to be conscious that the decisions made by each and every one of us can affect each and every one of us negatively or positively.
Mr. Speaker, our response to the pandemic has been a strategically inclusive one. In that regard, we have sought to engage key stakeholders in every consultation and they have been empowered to lend their voices to the process of decision-making…policy formulation and the enactment of timely and relevant legislation…
Mr. Speaker, the Emergency Powers proclamation and the Emergency Powers COVID-19 Regulations 2020 were the first laws enacted to specifically seek to control and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and in that vein, on the advice of the Hon. Prime Minister, His Excellency the Governor General declared a State of Emergency from Saturday 28th March 2020 in light of the imminent threat posed by the rapid and potentially deadly spread of [the] novel corona virus on a global scale. Mr. Speaker, since then we have passed into law sixteen (16) iterations of the COVID-19 Regulations. There have been sixteen (16) publications of new Regulations since that day on March 28th. Each of them have served to balance the varying levels of restrictions and freedoms. The legal framework for COVID-19 includes various protocols and provisions to effectively manage the crisis, protect the vulnerable and promote sustainable recovery.
Mr. Speaker, the Emergency Powers COVID-19 No. 16 Regulations SR&O No. 47 of 2020 is the current law regulating the response to and management of the pandemic and is intended to have effect up until midnight on Thursday 31st December 2020….and in that regard Mr. Speaker,…. emergency restrictions including curfews and lockdowns were firmly anchored in the rule of law. Mr. Speaker, the legality of the emergency actions that were taken by the government to seek to protect the people of this country have been challenged in the courts of law and have been found to be reasonable or appropriate. These actions, Mr. Speaker, mirror those of the international community and they were necessary although they were inconvenient or unconventional to some…. In the face of the threat of this crisis Mr. Speaker, there were curfews and lockdowns implemented all over the world.
Mr. Speaker, as you are aware the necessity for addressing the various concerns that arose out of the pandemic would have obviously demanded considerable legislative focus this year both for primary and subsidiary legislation….Consequently, we have seen the tabling and debate of a Resolution to extend the State of Emergency that initially would have been declared in March of this year…and you’ll recall that that initial declaration of a State of Emergency by His Excellency on the 28th March would have gone for a maximum of twenty-one days…and then we would have had to come to this Parliament…and we came to Parliament in April…early in April and we passed a Resolution…and it’s a very important period, Mr. Speaker….because some wanted to know…Are you going to do it for twelve months? Why [do] you need twelve months? Why [do] you need a State of Emergency? We said…Okay, you don’t want twelve months?…Let’s do it for six months…and we passed a Resolution for 6-months….and I’ll speak to it further because they has been back and forth on this….back and forth Mr. Speaker…and it’s something for us to understand what we have been having to do as a government of national unity.
Mr. Speaker, based on the advice of the CMO and her team the Cabinet took the bold decision to curtail operations in March for several weeks…. We locked down. People had to line up to go to supermarkets….We zoned them…. but these were very critical things that we had to do to be able to have people change their  behaviours…. to wear masks…. During this period, some persons within the Ministry of the Attorney General Justice and Legal affairs operated from home…. The resumption of face-to-face work in April saw some staff working on a shift system to avoid overcrowding of offices In compliance with covid-19 Regulations.
In terms of the way forward Mr. Speaker you may well recall that on the 7th of November just a few weeks ago this Parliament passed into law the Covid-19 Prevention and Control Act. Mr. Speaker in that sitting of Parliament it became incumbent upon us to bring before the Honorable House critical legislation on the prevention and control of the covid-19 Corona virus. The law has been passed and we await the order of the Minister to activate it once the State of Emergency and the Regulations that stand expire on Thursday next week…..but the covid-19 Act will then take effect.
We also note Mr. Speaker that if by any chance there’s any serious outbreak in our country, we have the option to go back to the State of Emergency…. We have that option. It has stood us well all year to have had that state of emergency in place. It has stood us well to be able to have these regulations….Emergency Powers Regulations that have come out to support the response to the covid-19; and we cannot take it for granted. We cannot drop our guard. This thing is not over…. and we have to be vigilant each and every one of us…. We’re all your brother’s keeper in this matter.
Mr. Speaker it is anticipated that the Act…the corona virus covid-19 Act will provide for an appropriate sound and valid framework as we continue to seek to protect the people of this Federation from this disruptive and potentially deadly virus… Most of us are only two painfully aware of what the world statistics look like. In our own way here we have not been immune to the incursion of this tsunami-like threat which has had this phenomenal effect on our economies and our businesses, on travel and our way of life. People want to go strip every night. They want Carnival…. but we[‘ve] got to be careful.
Just this weekend…. just this weekend in England…. They [are] locking down because [they] have now found [that] there’s a new strain of this deadly virus and it’s spreading faster than the one before. You just opened up to British Airways on Saturday. One plane [came] and when [that] one plane [came] we hear[d] in England… Belgium locked them out… Netherlands locked them out….France locked out the English…. Germany locked them out…Canada…not taking any planes… What do we do?… We have to be careful….very, very careful in protecting our people…. It is not over. We cannot take it for granted. We have to be careful; and we’ll talk about how we will modify our regulations as we go forward.
I cannot tire Mr. Speaker in commending the members of the Covid Task Force which I’ve had the honour to oversee along with Senator Phipps and the exemplary manner in which they have conducted their onerous duties. The task force has given St. Kitts and Nevis the enviable record of zero fatalities. Nobody dead!…. from this devastating global pandemic that has ravaged the populations of [the] developed world. To achieve this highly commendable statistic, they have had to withstand the pressures of various stakeholders… various shareholders…. who should know better… who have insisted on opening or borders prematurely to an influx of persons from corona virus hotspots…. Open the borders! Open the borders! Why you closing them for? Let the planes come!
If it were left to the members opposite […] our borders would have been flung wide open long ago. Mr. Speaker, it gives me goose bumps to say it even now. The members opposite have waged a totally irresponsible campaign to open our borders. If they had their way perhaps our tiny population would have imploded under the weight of their sheer stupidity and crass self-interest.
Imagine the St. Kitts Nevis Labour Party objected to the state of emergency and went as far as to file legal proceedings to have the emergency measures declared unconstitutional. They never wanted [any] protocols……no controls….Let all…who sick…come…. Let all of us get sick and let it get away in our country…. I couldn’t believe this… so that they could open our borders to an influx of persons from corona virus hotspots. It is mind-boggling Mr. Speaker…. and thank God for the leadership of Prime Minister Harris and Team Unity’s Vision and commitment to our country….
In the year of COVID Mr. Speaker, our government has prevailed. We have been laser focused on protecting the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. We have been very careful. When other people were opening up we were very cautious. Our restrictions…people understood and we are all happy because we put a ring fence around St. Kitts [and Nevis] and gradually opened up internally so we could have economic activity in St. Kitts [and Nevis]…but we knew at some point we’d have to start opening up gradually to the outside world but it brought  risk with it…and we have been saying that….and because we have had this wonderful team of medical experts….have been managing, screening and when they come in we catch them and we isolate them. We continue to mitigate… to restrain the spread….and we can only give them support…and all of us must do our part….
All of those of us who want to go jamming [on] jouvert….Take it easy….Take it easy….It’s only for a time. We goin’ get there….We need to follow LaLa’s advice….Have Carnival at home….Put a speaker in a corner….and a cooler in another one….That’s what we do….Take you’ time…. Small Axe released one too….Stay Where You Be!…..All those who think they could come here to jam and so on….Stay where you be, if you coming from hot spot[s]….Stay where you be….Our people here need to be protected and we’ll do what we have to do to protect them.”