Cuba to the rescue? St Vincent looks to Spanish country for help with COVID-19

The St Vincent and the Grenadines government on Saturday said it would look to Cuba for assistance in dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) after the island was among several Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to have reported cases of the virus that first surfaced in China last December.

Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the PM of St Vincent and the Grenadines, says the additional nurses would help with surveillance at the seaports.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, addressing the National Heroes Day at the Obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill on the outskirts of the capital, said that his administration would also be seeking to employ at least 20 nurses locally in addition to the 12 and three medical doctors from Havana, who specialise in handling infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the island announced that a young woman returning home from attending a conference in the United Kingdom had tested positive for the virus that has been blamed for the deaths of more than 5,000 people worldwide. The woman has been placed in isolation, and three members of her household quarantined.

“I’ve given approval to hire at least 20 additional nurses. It might go to 25.”

— Gonsalves

Gonsalves told the rally that he had visited Havana last week where he spoke with Cuban authorities, including President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

“I’ve given approval to hire at least 20 additional nurses. It might go to 25. They will finalise that number for me, but I’ve given the approval from St Vincent and Grenadines to strengthen surveillance, containment and management of COVID-19 especially at the airports and other ports of entry,” he said.

Train local nurses

He said the government is preparing to hire more nurses locally even as a batch of local nurses — some of whom have resigned positions in the public health system – leave on Monday to take up posts in the United Kingdom.

Gonsalves said he has also asked Cuba to assist in further training of local nurses and medical personnel in the area of infectious disease control.

“In fact, this morning I spoke with the Cuban ambassador, and he told me, ‘Prime Minister your nurses are ready to leave.’

“And it’s only yesterday he would have informed his authorities. … On Monday morning early, we will make all the arrangements for the housing and for the tickets and everything else for the specialists to come to assist us, in addition to those whom we are hiring locally.”

Surveillance at the seaports

Gonsalves said that the additional nurses would help with surveillance at the seaports in Union Island, Canouan, Mustique, and Bequia in the Grenadines, and at Wallilabou, Blue Lagoon on St Vincent island.

He said that his government intends to issue an order on Monday for the “suspension for certain formal ports of entry.

“For instance, if you’re going on the western side of the island, … you can enter down in Chateaubelair after you have docked in Wallilabou because we have to make sure that we keep the health and security personnel fairly focused.

“We are also indicating to the yachties that once you enter our waters, you must either go to the first port of entry or to indicate which port of entry you’re coming to. In some cases, we’re expanding the hours of operation.”