Archive | Climate/Weather

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Another Tropical Depression or Storm could form in the Atlantic this week

Reprint – July 26, 2020

The Atlantic could have yet another tropical depression or storm develop this week, piling on to the busy start we’ve already seen this hurricane season.

This latest disturbance is a broad area of low pressure located about halfway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles. The system has been dubbed Invest 92L – a naming convention used to identify areas being watched for tropical development – by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

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(The potential area of tropical development according to the latest National Hurricane Center outlook is shown by the polygon, color-coded by the chance of development over the next five days. An “X” indicates the location of a current disturbance. )

Invest 92L will be steered westward the next several days by the clockwise flow around a high-pressure system centered to its north.

Shower and thunderstorm activity in this system is disorganized, but conditions along its future path should be favorable for development. The NHC says there is a high chance of Invest 92L forming into a tropical depression during the next five days.

If this system were to become the next Atlantic tropical storm, it would be named Isaias (ees-ah-EE-ahs).

Regardless of development, this system could be located near or north of the Lesser Antilles as soon as Wednesday, and then Puerto Rico and Hispaniola late in the week. It’s too soon to determine what, if any, impacts these areas might see since that will depend on the system’s exact future track and intensity.

The forecast for this system beyond the Caribbean is also uncertain. Therefore, it’s too early to determine whether it could impact any other land areas, including the United States.

Posted in Climate/Weather, Hurricane, Local, News, Regional0 Comments

Safe & Sound

Safe & Sound

Reprint       News        Covid-19 is NOT a virus!

Health

Find out what Covid-19 really is and how you can protect yourself

One thing COVID-19 isn’t is a virus. There – I said it! Not that you would know from everything that’s buzzing around the media right now.

So if it’s not a virus, what is it?

COVID-19 is the disease you develop from being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Imagine it like HIV which is the virus that causes the disease AIDS.
Or the Streptococcus bacterium that causes tonsillitis.

So what does SARS-CoV stand for and how did it start?

SARS-CoV stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by the Coronavirus and SARS-CoV-2 is the latest strain of the virus.

Scientists have been looking at the genome sequencing of this virus and have traced its origins back many tens of thousands of years. Coronavirus is part of a family of viruses that cause various diseases in various animals and, more recently, humans.

Scroll forward thousands of years. The first human Coronavirus was discovered by Tyrrell and Bynoe, back in the 1960s. They took respiratory tract swabs from human volunteers who were suffering from the common cold. They discovered a common infectious agent and the story of human Coronavirus began.

Whilst this was a fantastic discovery, it only answered a few questions about an otherwise innocent disease. Oh, and also to gain its name due to the crown-like projections emanating from the virus cell’s membrane. Coronavirus!

Forward again to the 21st Century. The first strain of SARS-CoV appeared in 2002 in a small city in the Guangdong Province of China (population of around 7.2 million) on the border with Hong Kong where a farmer became ill with a severe respiratory infection. The virus spread around the world infecting 8,000 people (as far as we know) and was attributed to 774 deaths in 17 countries.

SARS-CoV came and went without a huge global concern given the overall numbers affected.

Fast forward to 2012: Saudi Arabia. The first case of MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) was reported. This spread around many countries and even reached the UK in 2015. Its official name is MERS-CoV. Since its discovery, it has infected around 2,494 people (laboratory-confirmed cases) and 858 reported deaths over 27 countries. Again, no global crisis because of such low numbers.

Now jump forward to late 2019 and back to China. This time an outbreak in the sprawling capital of Central China’s Hubei Province, Wuhan (probably from a meat market). The first example of the current mutation of the virus, SARS-CoV-2. Let’s dive in and look at why this strain of Coronavirus is causing worldwide chaos when SARS and MERS did not.

Lots of people say that flu is a huge global killer, so what’s the big deal about Coronavirus?

The World Health Organisation estimates the global deaths from seasonal flu at a minimum of 290,000 annually,

This is clearly a big number. So why the panic around Coronavirus? As we will see, for various reasons, left unchecked, the science around this new disease is that it would kill far more people than the flu. Why is this?

First up, It’s not about how many people die from it. It’s about how many catch it and survive!

In the case of SARS, there were 774 deaths out of 8,000 infected. This is a mortality rate of 9.7%.

Turning to MERS, there were 858 deaths out of 2,494 deaths, a staggering mortality rate of 35%! That means that if 100 people catch it, 35 will die.

Initially, the data suggests that this new strain of Coronavirus, SARS-COV-2, has a mortality rate of between 2-4%. On the face of it, the new virus doesn’t sound like a big deal.

However, this ignores the likely number of people infected worldwide. 2% of 1,000 would be a minor public health issue. However SARS-COV-2 is incredibly infectious and without massive interventions, many millions will be infected and 2% of millions is a huge loss of human life.

The Infection Rate

In order to understand why SARS-CoV-2 is so infectious, we need to understand something called the infection rate, calculate it for this virus and then work out how many people could potentially contract the illness and thus work out how many could possibly die.

The infection rate is how many people can a single person infect if they have the illness. We call this the R0 (R nought) number or reproduction number.
For example, flu has an R0 1.3.

So for each person that has the flu, they will pass that on to another 1.3 persons. Then they, in turn, will pass that on to another 1.3 people. And on it goes.

To add some context, measles has an R0 between 12-18 depending on various factors. So measles is incredibly infectious which is why public health authorities are so concerned to ensure close to 100% of the population are vaccinated. Without mass vaccination, millions would die from measles each year.

So with this data can we predict how many will catch this new virus and how many may die?

Well, no, not quite. There is something else we have to factor in and that’s the incubation time.

Incubation Time

Incubation time determines how many people will get sick over what timeframe. The flu has an incubation period of just a few days. And you may not show any symptoms over those few days but are still passing the virus on.

In just a few days the flu can infect many people. However, you know you have it sooner and can isolate so as not to infect others. In fact, most of us are too ill to want to go out once we have the symptoms. So we often stop spreading it as widely, at that stage, because we naturally travel less through the community.

So, in the case of viruses with long incubation periods, the longer the period we can infect other people. In the case of viruses where some or a large proportion of those infected have no symptoms during the incubation period, the more people we unknowingly infect.

Putting it all Together

We can now understand why SARS-CoV-2 is posing a worldwide pandemic and an unprecedented public health emergency not seen since the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic which killed an estimated 20-50 million people globally.

This new variant of SARS-CoV has an R0 of 2-2.5, has an incubation period between 1-14 days and, particularly in young people can be completely symptomless.

So can we now see how a) it will infect more people, b) they won’t know they are infected until they have had the virus for a while.

The combination of these factors means that if societies do not take extreme measures to socially isolate citizens, the virus will spread extremely rapidly and widely. Public Health England and other reputable medical sources estimate infection rates where such measures are not taken of approximately 80%

Even if the estimated death rate for SARS-CoV-2 of 2-4% is exaggerated – let’s apply an overall death rate of 1% – this would mean around 54 million of the UK population would be infected and around 540,000 would die. Taking the lower of the 2-4% range, over a million people would perish in the UK.

The idea that SARS-CoV-2 is just like the flu is dangerously wrong. This virus is a very dangerous beast and requires the huge and urgent international response it has generated.

How does the SARS-CoV virus work?

This virus can’t walk and it most certainly can’t fly. What’s more, it can only use those little crown projections coming out of it to bond to very specific cells. It can’t just bond to any old cell in your body.

It’s a respiratory tract infection. It can only bind to those special cells.

How does the SARS-CoV virus get into our body?

Usually, you put it there! Viruses are very intelligently adaptable. They have been on this planet longer than we have. They need to reproduce and then get out to find new hosts. Not just new host cells within the first animal they find: if they infect too many cells that the animal will die taking the virus along with it. Somehow they have to find a way to get out of this host animal and into another one. It’s incredibly difficult to infect another species, so it needs to find lots of the same species of animal in one place.

With this in mind, viruses tend to infect areas where they can easily get in but also get out. It’s no coincidence that Norovirus makes you expel all your bodily contents from both orifices of your digestive system! Its evolutionary capability is to reach as far and wide as possible.

The same mechanism drives coughing and sneezing when we have the flu. This enables the virus to reach other potential hosts.

On the other hand, when the virus leaves the body, it is under threat. It can’t live for very long outside the body. So it needs to find a new host before it dies. If the environmental factors are right, some viruses can live outside a host for many days. SARS-CoV 2 mostly relies on you coughing out large droplets of water to carry it and give it some temporary accommodation. Depending on what it lands on, its survival is a matter of hours or several days.

Direct contact can allow the virus to be passed from one person to another. The closer the contact, the more likely. Kissing is a virus’ best and easiest route. But the most likely route is usually your hands. That’s where the tyres meet the tarmac, so to speak. It’s how we interact with our surroundings.

An infected person touches another person or a hard surface and the virus waits for you to touch your face to facilitate migration into its new host animal – YOU!

What happens once we become infected by SARS-CoV?

Once inside your body, the virus binds to cells that have similar receptors to itself.

This is what’s called an enveloped virus – it has a special fat layer around the outside. This helps protect it between host cells but it also looks like a protein that should not be attacked by the immune system. Initially anyway. The virus is not of human origin so our immune system doesn’t recognise it. The infected cell is then fooled into accepting the virus.

This is where the virus gets to work. It has found a new host and the new cells are healthy. So the virus starts to hijack the cell. The virus then uses the cell’s factory to start printing out millions of copies of itself. But it has to hide these new copies so they don’t get attacked. This is another vulnerable stage for the virus. It uses our cells to coat the new copies, to hide them and releases them in search of new hosts. The virus ruthlessly keeps printing copies until it kills the host cell that it’s hijacked. It hopes that the new copies have infected new cells and thus the cycle continues.

As more and more cells are destroyed in the production of new viruses, the system begins to break down. So, in the case of a respiratory tract infection, lung cells. Obviously, fewer functioning lung cells means reduced functionality of the lungs.

In the case of SARS-CoV 2, the evidence suggests that this is the most likely cause of death. Those with existing reduced lung function, like the elderly or those with lung diseases, are at the most risk. But any underlying health condition that reduces your body’s ability to fight infections, increases the risk.

But it’s not all bad. The clock is ticking for the virus. As it kills more cells, our immune system will be enlightened to that and start to react. Actively looking for and killing new viruses that are released from damaged host cells. Now it’s the battle of the fittest. This is why those who are young, fit or healthy have strong immune systems and their systems are best able to fight the virus and kill it off. Those people either have no symptoms or mild or moderate symptoms. They will not need medical treatment although drinking lots of fluid and taking paracetamol can be used to reduce headaches and aching limbs. Those who are less fit, older, with less strong immune systems will experience much more serious symptoms and may need to be hospitalised.

Symptoms of SARS-CoV-2

The reports of symptoms are far and wide. Ranging from no symptoms at all, all the way up to death.

However, the 2 most common symptoms are:

• a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
• a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)

The only way to know if you really have SARS-CoV 2 is by testing.

The UK is currently only testing hospital admissions that are displaying the common symptoms. There is no test available at the moment for people who have already contracted the illness but recovered. And until we have one it’s very difficult to accurately calculate the mortality rate, infection rate and incubation period. It may be that many more have had this virus than first thought, which would significantly reduce the mortality rate. The UK Government has announced that it is very close to the release of mass self-testing to see whether individuals have had the illness because the test will detect whether they have developed antibodies (prior to last December, no human had had the virus so no-one was immune).

I think I have Covid-19 – what should I do?

If you have symptoms of coronavirus (a high temperature or a new, continuous cough), use the 111 coronavirus service: NHS 111 Service

DO NOT go to places like a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

What can I do to prevent getting Covid-19?

At the moment, there is no vaccine or anti-viral drug for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Once you are infected and develop Covid-19 all you can do is alleviate symptoms. So if you have a fever, for example, try to reduce it.
Government advice is changing daily with daily bulletins, updates and advice.
But as with any virus, we can take certain basic precautions.

Hand Washing is Your Best Weapon

Soap and water will remove the virus. Alcohol hand sanitiser can damage the fatty shell and make the virus more vulnerable. Washing robs much of the natural oils from our skin causing it to dry out. Dry skin is incredibly difficult to clean, so moisturiser is just as important as soap! After washing, try to moisturise to keep your skin hydrated and make it easier to clean.

Should I wear a face mask?

Surgical face masks won’t stop you contracting the virus. The mask is to stop the healthcare worker coughing onto their vulnerable patients. Evidence has shown that face masks can increase the risk as they get wet (remember this virus needs those water droplets) and human behaviour. Those not accustomed to wearing them touch their face more frequently than they would normally have done. Although if you have the virus you can prevent others from contracting it by using a mask or covering your face when coughing or sneezing.

Social Distancing

I’ve already mentioned how water droplets can’t travel far. So social distancing is another great weapon to combat the increased spread of the virus.
The droplets from coughing and sneezing can reach up to 2 meters from the infected host. So maintaining at least that distance in an open space should prevent infection.

Isolate Yourself

Stay at home as much as you can. Only leave for essential items or to help someone who is vulnerable and cannot care for themselves. And remember that you can be infected and spread this virus with little or no symptoms.
Understand the R0 factor and incubation period as I discussed earlier.
If one member of your household contracts it, the chances are the rest will.

Symptoms usually last for 5-7 days. But in those where they have been complications, it can take several weeks to recover.

What About Herd Immunity?

So if most of us will be ok, then why not just go get it?

Herd immunity does work. But it works much more safely if we can vaccinate rather than take the gamble people will survive the illness. It’s estimated about 20% of those that contract this virus will require hospitalisation. With about a quarter of those which will require Intensive Care.

In number terms, it is estimated that instead of 540,000 plus dying if nothing is done, using herd immunity and then protecting the vulnerable would reduce the number of deaths by around half to 250,000.

This is why the UK Government has introduced a significant lockdown of the country. The experts have estimated that if the UK population follows the guidelines strictly, the number of overall deaths could be substantially limited, possibly as low as around 25,000.

So what is the difference between the herd immunity model and the lockdown model?

Whilst our healthcare system is currently coping, we are only in the very early stage of the epidemic in the UK at the moment.

If the growth of those catching the virus is not strongly controlled by changing the population’s exposure to each other over the cycle of the virus until there is a vaccine available (estimated at 1 year to 18 months) or effective anti-viral medication (period unknown), the health service will rapidly become overwhelmed in terms of human resources, beds, oxygen, ventilators and personal protection equipment. Many, many thousands of people will needlessly die both from the virus and also from other illnesses which the health system will not be able to treat.

Herd immunity involves allowing 80% of the population to carry on with business as usual whilst the most vulnerable are in lockdown. However, this will mean that too many people will catch the virus and get ill at the same time. Around 20% of those catching it will become seriously ill and the health service will rapidly become overwhelmed.

Hence the new model: everyone apart from essential workers are placed into periods of home lockdown. This is designed to ensure that the virus spreads in as controlled and limited way as possible so that over the medium term the health services can cope and the maximum number of lives can be saved.

If most people recover after 7 days, then our beds should clear relatively quickly and will be ready for the next wave. It would be easier to deal with many small waves than one big one. Any good sailor will tell you that.
Each country has to deal with this in a different way. Individual demographics (some cultures have more people living in a single homestead), social demographics (elderly populations are more vulnerable), transport systems (better transport the larger the infection rate). I could go on. But the variables will make timing and tactics very different from country to country.

When will this end?

The truth is, we don’t know. What we do know about viruses is that they die off either by lack of hosts (because they are dead or too far away to infect so the virus naturally dies) or by having antibodies against the virus in our immune system via vaccination or surviving the virus.

But even then this could change seasonally and our antibodies may only offer short term protection like the flu.

The better question perhaps is how will this end? Here our answer is driven by what we know about the virus as summarised above. If through lockdown, the spread can be reversed, if the reversal is maintained eventually the population will be virus-free. How does the spread reverse: the answer is the R0 becomes less than 1. We know that uncontrolled the SARS-CoV-2 has an R0 of 2.3 meaning one person will on average infect 2.3 other people. If we successfully self-isolate, the R0 will drop. In a strange hypothetical world where every person the entire world self-isolated for six weeks, the R0 would eventually hit 0 i.e. no-one is infecting anyone else!

In the real world, the likelihood of the virus dying out in the human population is highly remote because different countries are imposing different degrees of lockdown. Thailand is an example of a country which has closed its borders, internal curfews, etc. It has had 1,045 cases and 4 deaths in an overall population of around 69 million. It is of course much closer to the original epicentre of the illness, China, than the UK which has a population of around 67.7 million, 9,529 cases and 465 deaths. The UK’s policy has shifted from a more liberal herd immunity approach initially to a much greater degree of lockdown in the last week.

We must bear in mind that European countries, a group of liberal democracies, will be balancing restrictions against the constraints on these actions in free societies. Even within Europe, the UK is more permissive than, say, Italy and Spain.

Bottom line, given different approaches, the virus will not disappear anytime soon. So the virus will not be totally defeated for many years to come. The threat it poses can be substantially reduced if we all follow the UK Government’s directions and, we hope, many of these restrictions can be reduced and subsequently totally lifted once vaccines and anti-viral medications are in place within the next year to 18 months.

Wishing you all well. Stay home, stay safe.

Mark Waterfield

Infection Control Lead for Safe and Sound

Posted in CARICOM, Climate/Weather, COVID-19, Environment, Featured, Health, International, Local, News, OECS, Regional0 Comments

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Power outages and damage reported after 5.4 earthquake hits southern Puerto Rico

Associated Press Published – May 2, 2020 – reprint

by Danica Coto

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico— A 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit near southern Puerto Rico on Saturday, briefly knocking out power and jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit at a shallow depth of 5.6 miles near the city of Ponce and the towns of Guanica and Guayanilla, where hundreds of homes were destroyed by a quake in early January that killed one person and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Reports of damage were still trickling in on Saturday, with at least one second-story balcony crashing in the southern city of Ponce, spokeswoman Inés Rivera told The Associated Press. Meanwhile, cracks in homes were reported in Guayanilla.

“Everything shook really hard,” spokesman Danny Hernández said by phone.

A police officer, wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, removes debris caused by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Saturday, May 2, 2020. The quake hit near southern Puerto Rico, jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year. Carlos Giusti, AP

Meanwhile, in Guánica, Mayor Santos Seda told the AP that no major damage has been reported so far, but noted that between five to 10 people remain in a shelter since the 6.4-magnitude quake that hit in January.

“Thank God everyone is OK,” he said. “The infrastructure is already weak.”

From January: 950 earthquakes have hit Puerto Rico so far this year. Why? Blame it on an ‘earthquake swarm’

Several aftershocks hit Puerto Rico’s southern region, including a 4.9-magnitude one.

Víctor Huérfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, said in a phone interview that while it’s understandable many people are afraid and surprised by the most recent earthquake, it’s not unusual given the seismic activity that began in the region in late December.

“In the long run, it’s decreasing, but you can have peaks,” he said, adding that he expects strong aftershocks to continue.

The earthquake struck as Puerto Ricans are ordered to remain home as part of a two-month lockdown to help curb coronavirus cases. Gov. Wanda Vázquez tweeted that rescue crews were fanning out across the area and that she would shortly be traveling there to meet with those affected in person. 

A police officer, wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, walks past debris caused by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Saturday, May 2, 2020. The quake hit near southern Puerto Rico, jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year. Carlos Giusti, AP

“If your infrastructure is damaged, you must leave with your face mask on and your emergency backpack,” she said as she urged people to remain calm.

But nerves are already frayed in many parts of the island as Puerto Rico continues to recover from Hurricane Maria, a string of strong earthquakes and the coronavirus.

Silvestre Alicea, a 67-year-old man who moved back to Puerto Rico from New York upon retiring, lost his home in January’s earthquake and is still living with his sister in Guanica. 

“This is unreal,” he said, adding that some neighbors have left the area to stay with relatives elsewhere and that many, including a security guard who worked all night, are now sitting nervously in their balconies. “He hasn’t slept.”

Alicea, however, said he decided to knock down a couple of breadfruits from a nearby tree as the aftershocks continue: “I’m taking it easy. There’s nothing else you can do.” 

A resident, wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, makes photos of the damage caused by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Saturday, May 2, 2020. The quake hit near southern Puerto Rico, jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year. Carlos Giusti

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Earthquake, Environment, International, Local, News, Regional, Travel0 Comments

reaction-to-Mar-25-press-conf-question

Was it soon enough?

by Bennette Roach

By March 20, 2020, the Government would begin to introduce some and almost belatedly many of the suggestions made in that now infamous letter.

MoHSS preparedness and planning committee/team (from GIU photo)

On March 24 Montserrat’s second case was confirmed and on March 26 three additional cases were confirmed, bringing the total number of cases in Montserrat to five –Five cases are too many in our small population. (But so is one dead from dengue fever)

Following the first sign of the Montserrat government taking some action in concern about the COVID-19 when they signed their first Order under the Public Health Act on March 13, 2020, on Saturday when they published the said Order, the Ministry of Health (MoHSS) issued a press release in which it informed: “…are reviewing (arriving) visitors who were on the same flight as the confirmed case in Antigua. Today, March 14th, the Ministry of Health and Social Services, announces that as part of contact tracing following yesterday’s reported case in Antigua, that there is one (1) suspected case of COVID-19 in Montserrat.”

The release added that the MoH “…has made contact with around 60% of persons that came to Montserrat who were on the same flight as the reported case in Antigua, asking that, “Those persons and any other members of the household have been asked to ‘home quarantine…” That number of passengers was later confirmed at 104.

In an unprecedented move, it being Sunday, the Government issued a release that said, “GoM is advising visitors to the island, to rearrange their flights and depart earlier than they may have initially planned.”

The only visitors who were not yet on the island of the thousands expected would have been those from neighbouring islands who would have come for the 16-17th celebrations. Meanwhile, the suspected case of COVID-19 “individual is currently under home isolation,“ the release stated.

Premier Farrell, CMO Duberry and D. Hazel

The Premier’s next pronouncement was his St. Patrick’s Day message where he reiterated the cancellation of the Festival and further events. “…remind you of the significance of this day for us here…Many are captivated by the annual celebrations which accompany our St. Patrick’s Festival. However, we know the ongoing public health emergency has affected our usual St. Patrick’s festivities.  Of course, you will all appreciate that the actions are taken to cancel the St. Patrick’s festival in the best interest of all of us — Public Health is Paramount.”

Meanwhile, the ECCB revealed: “On the recommendation of the ECCB Board of Directors, the Monetary Council of the  Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) has approved grant funding, in the sum of EC$4.0m (EC$500,000 each), to the ECCB Member Governments, to help in their fight against the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19…

It is uncertain whether GoM has publicly acknowledged or has said how that money was spent, considering the lame discussions that have taken place since then about money, particularly when Governor Pearce a week later misconstrued a question as to how they were accessing funds for the crisis, when promises were made to compensate or to assist employers and workers in the shutdown that had been seen necessary to avoid transmission of the virus.

The next release from the government since Sunday was one where, “The Government of Montserrat has made provisions for discretionary leave, and has issued a flexible working arrangements policy for public officers, in light of the March 13, 2020 decision to limit gatherings of more than 50 persons, and to close schools for the period 16th March to 3rd April, 2020.” Schools should be on Easter vacation for the next couple weeks

On the 19th MoH activated a 24-hour service exclusively to treat and manage persons with flu-like symptoms. “This will aid in the identification of persons infected with COVID- 19 as opposed to the other respiratory illnesses like the cold and flu…” a release explained.

That was followed with another call on visitors to leave this time with the offer that, “In light of the evolving global pandemic, major airlines are cutting back flights…To accommodate travelers who are willing to re-schedule their flights, airlines have removed change fees on bookings, so persons can amend their travels without additional fees or charges…” and that the same would “to the Montserrat Ferry Service and airline tickets between Montserrat and Antigua.”

A hastily planned press conference was called that same day, which TMR was not represented for more than questionable circumstances which may be mentioned later.

Premier Joseph Farrell

A long statement was presented at that press conference where Premier Farrell after noting “the first case might have caused some anxiety and that is a natural response,” noting also, “The commitment from the UK Government to Montserrat remains strong.”

He then announced Government “are in constant communication with the United Kingdom Government and Public Health UK, as well as regional partners including OECS, CARICOM, CARPHA, ECCB, (ECCB had previously announced grant funds, still no acknowledge to a decision he would have been part of, or privy to) so that we can continue to take the appropriate steps to minimize the threat of the virus to the country (already here) and reduce risk to citizens, residents and visitors.”

He said, “Government is in continuous dialogue with local stakeholders with the intention of further improving the COVID-19 response plan,” which “includes the social, economic and fiscal arrangements for dealing with this global pandemic.”

He announced further, some of the specific support, adding that he had instructed the Ministry of Finance in January 2020 to immediately release funds to the Ministry of Health for the purchase of medical equipment, protective clothing, and supplies, in preparation for any impending COVID-19 cases as Phase I of our preparation.

Finally, he announced further restriction of: public gatherings from 50 to 25;

a 14 day quarantine period for anyone traveling to Montserrat; a reiterated prohibition of visits to public and private homes of the elderly;

the self-isolation of elderly persons aged 70 and over with the provision for family and community members and Health authorities to provide support where necessary; and guidance that everyone adheres to ongoing Public Health Advice and precautions around social distancing and personal hygiene.

Donaldson Romeo, MLA member

Earlier that day, March 19, we received a Statement from former Premier Donaldson Romeo now opposition member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) with a note that this was following up on exchanges he has had with the Governor and by copy to the Premier. He complained: “His Excellency Andrew Pearce, Montserrat’s British-appointed Governor, and Montserrat’s elected Premier, Hon Taylor are fumbling, unprepared and ill-equipped, weeks behind the curve of the crisis, in a country that has been over-exposed to the virus after a big influx of visitors to the St. Patrick’s festival.”

He pointed out: “Many countries have declared a state of emergency in an effort to enforce a greater level of isolation, slow the spread of the coronavirus, and eventually wipe it out.”

He explained his statement citing several examples of action worldwide, pointing specifically, “the Monetary Council (on which our Hon Premier sits), and which on Sunday, March 15 declared that the best action to minimize economic fallout from COVID-19 is containment supported by personal responsibility combined with proactive, and where needed, aggressive public policy”.

He pointed to the fact, “The Government of Montserrat and the Governor turned a deaf ear to appeals to cancel the St. Patrick’s festival, and went ahead with the celebrations as usual, attracting more than 2,500 plus visitors to the island, and increasing its population by 50%.”

He questioned, “Will His Excellency Governor Pearce and our Hon Premier Taylor supported by HMG, consider calling a State of Emergency?” Then he quoted the UK Chancellor, “We want to look back on this time and remember how in the face of a generation-defining moment, we undertook a collective national effort and we stood together.”

What Romeo did not say is that he had not had any ear to his suggestions from H E and the Premier he had secured promises from the UK that support was waiting to be accessed. His statement was headed, “To be or not to be worthy of “Small Acts of Kindness”

Reacting out of view to questions from the press

Since that week, through today, there have been reports of more and suspected cases and confirmed cases, including one individual, who was tested, but who had left the island while test results were pending. Only one person remained hospitalized as shown on the front page graph, while others are questionably sent into “home quarantine.”

Donaldson Romeo’s Statement…

The British Chancellor declared today:

“We want to look back on this moment and remember the many small acts of kindness done by us and to us. We want to look back on this time and remember how we thought first of others and acted with decency. We want to look back on this time and remember how in the face of a generation-defining moment, we undertook a collective national effort and we stood together.”

These are heartwarming words indeed, and Montserratians are waiting to know whether the Chancellor’s “we” includes us in the British Overseas Territories.

As we wait, we in Montserrat hold fast to the Hand of God that has been, and will continue to be, a Present Help in trouble to all those, governments and people around the world, willing to work together for the common good.

“Just over a week later The British Prime Minister, like other leaders around the world, has finally ordered strict bans and provided considerable funding to address the medical dilemma and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, His Excellency Andrew Pearce, Montserrat’s British-appointed Governor, and Montserrat’s elected Premier, Hon Taylor are fumbling, unprepared and ill-equipped, weeks behind the curve of the crisis, in a country that has been over-exposed to the virus after a big influx of visitors to the St. Patrick’s festival.

Just days ago the USA issued its strongest travel advisory, level 4, urging U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.

Apart from the USA, many countries in the Caribbean and around the world experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks have implemented travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines. Some have closed borders and denied entry to non-citizens. Many cruise operators have suspended operations or canceled trips. So have airlines, leaving travelers stranded and some businesses at a standstill.

Many countries have declared a state of emergency in an effort to enforce a greater level of isolation, slow the spread of the coronavirus, and eventually wipe it out. Last week the Governor of Missouri, Michael Parson, declared a state of emergency when only two cases were found (out of a population of 6 million!). Why? To better control the level of people’s isolation, and to be allowed to waive certain state laws and regulations as needed to deal with the public health crisis. In addition, the declaration of a state of emergency permits the state to access extra funds and take additional actions to respond to the growing public health emergency.

According to statistics coming from Imperial College, London, if strict social distancing is observed, the UK can expect around 20,000 people to die over the course of a year, as opposed to up to 10 times as many (200,000) if strict social distancing is not practiced.

Previously the UK Government was slow to take drastic measures, simply requesting that people avoid unnecessary social contact, and businesses were not required to close. Today (Friday, March 20) Pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and many other venues across the UK were ordered to close, in a bid to slow the spread of COVID 19.

According to the online Guardian newspaper, the British Government “will cover 80% of the salaries of retained workers up to £2,500 per month, and defer the next quarter of VAT payments due from businesses”. It will also provide “£6 billion of extra support for the welfare system.” The scheme, says Metro, another London paper, “will run for at least three months but can be extended if necessary and will have ‘no limit’ of funding.”

With these examples of what Governments around the world (and the British Government in particular) are doing, the Government of Montserrat is still in go-slow mode, with lightweight measures banning gatherings of more than 25 persons and only asking passengers arriving on Montserrat to self-isolate for 14 days. Apart from paying public servants five days early, there is no mention of assistance to the unemployed or to struggling businesses and people who have, for the past 25 years, been living, fighting to rebound from a volcanic crisis.

And that despite the strong advice coming from our own EC Dollar Monetary Council (on which our Hon Premier sits), and which on Sunday, March 15 declared that “the best action to minimize economic fallout from COVID-19 is containment supported by personal responsibility combined with proactive, and where needed, aggressive public policy”.

What is particularly worrying is that Montserrat’s only hospital is already short of equipment and staffing to deal with specialist medical conditions in normal times, never mind handling large numbers of the respiratory and other complications that would come with a COVID 19 pandemic. Since there is no testing equipment on the island, samples must be flown more than 400 miles to Trinidad to be tested, with a turnaround time for results of 2 to 3 days. Therefore, one cannot tell in good time whether medical staff, or those with symptoms, or who have had contact with an individual, are carrying the virus or not.

The Government of Montserrat and the Governor turned a deaf ear to appeals to cancel the St. Patrick’s festival, and went ahead with the celebrations as usual, attracting more than 2,500 plus visitors to the island, and increasing its population by 50%.

On March 10, BA flight 2157 brought 300 plus passengers from London to Antigua. One of these passengers tested positive for the coronavirus – Antigua’s first confirmed case. Of the 80 passengers from the same flight that came on to Montserrat, one eventually also tested positive, becoming the island’s first COVID-19 patient.

No doubt taking their cue from the Government’s timid approach to social distancing and to severely restricting travel into Montserrat, parties, bars, restaurants and many other venues and social gatherings continued as per usual throughout and after the festival period.

Many continue to argue that the Governor (constitutionally responsible for leading out in disaster management and mitigation, as well as security), and Montserrat’s elected Government, need not have taken such a gamble with lives. After all, because of prolonged economic stagnation since the volcanic crisis, HMG is already providing 60% of Montserrat’s recurrent budget and over 90% of its capital expenditure.

Not to mention the fact that in keeping with UN article 73, Montserrat is entitled to be treated as a priority recipient of aid from the UK Overseas Development Aid (ODA) budget of over £12 billion (0.07% of UK’s GDP, totally separate from, and therefore not affecting, domestic spending). More to the point, many Montserratians fear a repeat of the belated and inadequate aid they have received since the beginning of the ongoing 25-year volcanic crisis.

So while the British Prime Minister, like other leaders in the Caribbean and around the world, enforces stricter bans on social distancing and promises billions of pounds in aid to British people and businesses, Montserratians are left, avoidably ill-equipped and vulnerable, to face an unprecedented pandemic. Our government has been hesitating instead of taking the radical action required to slow contagion, to provide adequate emergency health care, as well as measures for mitigating the inevitable social and economic impact of this new threat.

Will His Excellency Governor Pearce and our Hon Premier Taylor supported by HMG, consider calling a State of Emergency? When will they take the advice of our own Monetary Council and act swiftly to save lives and “to minimize economic fallout from COVID-19 containment supported by personal responsibility combined with proactive, and where needed, aggressive public policy”?

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Climate/Weather, COVID-19, Featured, Health, International, Local, News0 Comments

UNICEF-Advice-in-brief-web

Eight under investigation for COVID-19 in Montserrat

by Bennette Roach

It is difficult to recall when any event or series of events have taken on the global interest and concern over what is suspected, especially if everyone does not act as responsibly as required, will kill millions globally.

Tiny Montserrat is not spared the attention in this pandemic surrounding the Coronavirus (COVIVD-19) as complaints and questions surmount as to whether Government of Montserrat (GoM) has been responsible or at least demonstrated in their actions or inactions the necessary measures to deal with the situation as far as it affects the island and its people.

The foregoing does not suggest in any way and judgment of anything done or not done but the attempt has been made to keep the people informed of GoM activities with regard to the pandemic.

Today closes with information from the Government Information Unit that a total of eight patients have been sampled for COVID-19 testing on Montserrat over the period Thursday, March 19 and Saturday, March 21, 2020. 

The release states this was reported by the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) today, Monday, March 23, 2020.

“Since the opening of the St. Peter’s “flu clinic” on Thursday 19 March, a total of 33 patients have been assessed at the compound. 21 on Thursday and 12 on Friday. Five of those patients met the criteria for testing. That is, they were identified as high risk and displaying symptoms associated with COVID-19. Samples were collected from an additional 3 patients as part of the 24- hour COVID-19 Care Service established by the Ministry.  All suspected cases are in quarantine while we await the results,” the release stated.1st

What still remains to be clarified is that TMR had obtained information that the day when the first person was confirmed positive there were already eight persons suspected, making the news today somewhat suspicious, as questions continue to be raised as to how ready the health authorities are to deal with the threats and concerns surrounding the issues involved.

All eight samples were reportedly dispatched to the CARPHA Reference Laboratory in Trinidad today.

Meantime, however, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharra Greenaway–Duberry confirmed however that future testing may create a challenge as Trinidad & Tobago is closing its borders as of Monday, March 23. This does raise further questions as to why this should be an issue. In the meantime, there is also information that training has been done closer to Montserrat in the area of testing.

The release reported the CMO as saying, “The unprecedented border closures are creating severe and unexpected challenges, the Ministry is now therefore, exploring other options to eliminate them and streamline the diagnostic process; such as building the on-island capacity to test.”

She also offered an update on the well-being of the island’s first confirmed case. She indicated that the patient remains in isolation and is doing well.  

She also emphasized the need for the public to continue to adhere to prevention and protection measures. “Although COVID-19 infections will be mild for most it is important that we protect our vulnerable and those most at risk of severe infection and even death. The highest risk groups include the elderly and persons living with conditions such as asthma and other respiratory ailments, and chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.  By practicing good hygiene and social distancing we can drastically decrease the possible rates of infection here in Montserrat,” Dr. Greenaway- Duberry is quoted as saying.

A reminder is also issued to the public that all persons experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fever, dry cough, sneeze, stuffy, and runny nose should contact the St. Peter’s clinic by telephone at the following numbers:  491-5436 or 496- 9724. The clinic is opened daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Outside those hours’ persons can receive medical attention by calling the Glendon Hospital Casualty Department at 491-2802 /491-2836/491-2552.

See below from a CNBC report that WHO has now published a variation to the airborne nature of the virus!

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/16/who-considers-airborne-precautions-for-medical-staff-after-study-shows-coronavirus-can-survive-in-air.html

Posted in Climate/Weather, COVID-19, Environment, Featured, International, Local, Regional0 Comments

Ferry-docking-in-Plymouth-2018-DSC_4310

Contingency Plan activated – Ferry to dock at Plymouth Jetty today

Update

Following a safe docking and landing of passengers as desired in Plymouth, the Jaden Sun has reportedly returned to Antigua and has left with passengers who will now be able to disembark and Port Little Bay.

UPDATE: That hope did not materialise – the second departure from Antigua with about 220 passengers with plans to dock at Port Little Bay around midnight. Instead went on to dock at Plymouth, ending the whole disembarkation and processing close to 4 a.m. There were other trips during today and all back to normal by tonight with Access reporting another big day tomorrow into Friday. But with calmer waters. GIU information says following assessments of conditions at Little Bay being favourable, the ferry is expected to dock at Little Bay. The latest report says the ferry Antigua left at approximately 10.20 p.m. which means a possible arrival time at Little Bay around midnight.

The first trip to Port Plymouth brought 100 passengers and according to GIU info, the second trip will bring about 220 persons, easing considerably the need for the near 400 persons expected today to overnight in uncertain accommodation tonight.

Here’s to more favourable times; remembering March 7, 2018, when the sea rose-up just moments after the ferry reached Plymouth and was about to dock, forcing the ferry to return to Antigua. But only after the same thing happened shortly after at Little Bay only a bit more aggressively.

Passengers getting ready to disembark when the water got a bit naughty

GIU, Davy Hill Montserrat–  The Access Division in the Office of the Premier has activated its contingency plan for the ferry to dock at the Plymouth jetty as sea conditions continue to pose a challenge at the jetty located at Little Bay.

Assessments of the sea conditions in Plymouth have indicated that the conditions there are more favourable for the ferry to operate. As a result, His Excellency the Governor, Andrew Pearce has granted approval for the ferry to disembark at the Plymouth Jetty.   The Jaden Sun Ferry will therefore depart Antigua promptly at 4:00 p.m. today Tuesday, March 10, 2020. 

To ensure as many persons as possible are able to travel on this trip, passengers will only be allowed to carry their hand luggage. All other luggage (bags) will be transported separately on the Typhoon Express ferry.

Following the arrival of the Jaden Sun ferry at Port Plymouth this afternoon, a further determination and subsequent announcement will be made about the other trips.

Posted in Climate/Weather, Environment, Government Notices, International, Local, News, Regional, Travel0 Comments

Caribbeean-News-Service-logo2

5.0 quake hits southern Puerto Rico amid ongoing tremors

A 5.0 magnitude earthquake hit southern Puerto Rico on Saturday at a shallow depth, raising concerns about unstable infrastructure in a region that has been hit by quakes every day for nearly a month.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake occurred at a depth of eight miles (13 kilometres) around the southern coastal town of Guayanilla, located close to the epicenters of most of the recent earthquakes. “We felt it really hard,” town spokesman Danny Hernandez told The Associated Press, saying authorities were patrolling the area to investigate any potential damage.

The newest quake comes a day after hundreds of people in the island’s southern region were evacuated from earthquake shelters that flooded after heavy rains hit the U.S. territory. In the coastal city of Ponce alone, more than 350 people on Friday were moved back into a school that served as the initial shelter when the ground first began shaking, Angel Vazquez, the city’s emergency management director, told the AP.

He said no damage was immediately reported in Ponce, but that crews were out inspecting buildings in areas affected by a 6.4 magnitude quake that hit Jan. 7, killing one person and damaging hundreds of homes. A 5.9 aftershock that hit the same area on Jan. 11 caused further damage. The ground in southern Puerto Rico first began shaking on Dec. 28, and while experts say several local faults are to blame, they are still analyzing data to determine why the earthquakes continue.

U.S. President Donald Trump has approved a major disaster declaration for more than dozen municipalities in Puerto Rico following earthquakes that officials say have caused more than $200 million in damage.

The number of 4,000 people representing nearly the recently declared population of Montserrat, remain in shelters.

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Earthquake, Environment, International, Local, News, Regional, TOURISM0 Comments

Weather system causes disruption to Ferry Service

Weather system causes disruption to Ferry Service

Jaden Sun

The Access Division, under the portfolio of the Office of the Premier, is informing travelers that a high-pressure system in the region is expected to produce rough sea conditions over the next few days, which is resulting in the cancellation of the ‘Day Tour Service’ and will possibly disrupt other scheduled ferry services from Friday, January 10 to 14.

Daily assessments of sea conditions will be done to determine whether the ferry service will operate and customers will be informed of changes to the ferry services following these assessments. Customers are therefore encouraged to monitor all media platforms for regular updates on potential changes to the ferry service.

Travelers are asked to note that the ferry is scheduled to depart Montserrat for Antigua at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow Friday, January 10 and a determination will be made on whether or not the ferry will operate its normal return journey from Antigua to Montserrat in the evening.

As a result, ‘Day Tour Service’ for tomorrow, Friday, January 10, has been canceled.

Customers are therefore advised to review their travel arrangements considering the upcoming disruptions.

Ferry Agents can be contacted on the following numbers:

Agents:
Montserrat: Jemmotte Shipping (664) 496-9912
Antigua: Jenny Tours 1-268-722-8188

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Climate/Weather, Government Notices, International, Local, News, Regional, TOURISM, Travel0 Comments

5.2 magnitude earthquake jolts Caribbean islands

5.2 magnitude earthquake jolts Caribbean islands

Jan 8, 2020

An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.2 rocked several Caribbean countries on Wednesday as regional countries were being urged to continue monitoring the situation in Puerto Rico where two strong quakes have been blamed for the death of one man and damage to several buildings in that country.

 The Trinidad-based Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies said that the quake occurred at 10: 01 local time and was located Latitude: 15.18N; Longitude: 61.22W and at a depth of 123 kilometres.

The centre said that the quake was felt 23 km southeast of Roseau in Dominica as well as 66 km north, northwest of Fort-de-France, the capital of the French island of Martinique and 124 km south, southeast of Point-à-Pitre, the capital of Guadeloupe.

 It said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage and the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) Wednesday joined the centre in urging Caribbean countries to monitor the situation in Puerto Rico.

 CDEMA further urged countries said to be guided by the established protocols outlined in their respective tsunami and coastal hazard plans

Posted in Climate/Weather, Earthquake, International, Local, News, Regional, TOURISM0 Comments

image

NASSAU, Bahamas Dec. 11, (CMC) – Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands says that weeks after the passage of Hurricane Dorian, there are bodies that remain unclaimed in a refrigerated trailer on the island of Abaco.

“In the trailer in Abaco, a significant number of bodies I believe probably about 50 (have not been claimed). DNA samples have been taken and the expected time from DNA sampling until comparison and conclusion can be as long as six to nine months,” he said.

According to Sands, while the remains of a few storm victims have been to their families, the government might use an independent third party to act as an intermediary to enable undocumented migrants – who may be fearful – to identify the remains.

“Bear in mind that some people may be afraid to come forward if their immigration status is not ideal. This problem is not unique to The Bahamas and so (a consideration is) to have an independent third party perhaps act as an intermediary so that the process of identification can take place,” said Sands, who was speaking outside Cabinet on Tuesday.

He added that health officials would like to curtail the length of time the bodies are kept in the Abaco trailer.

“In Abaco…we’d like to limit the length of time. We have remains in New Providence that would have been here in refrigerated trailers for years. There is no absolute limit as to how long you can keep refrigerated remains. In this instance however at that facility to have a trailer sitting there for an indefinite time is not ideal and so what we would like to be able to do is to be very aggressive in terms of making it safe and easy for individuals to identify.”

Concerning a burial site for the remains for the unidentified remains of those killed by the hurricane, he said that not much progress has been made for the burial site.

Posted in Environment, Hurricane, International, Local, News, Obituaries, Politics, Regional0 Comments

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