Two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on St. Eustatius

Fellow citizens of St. Eustatius,

It is with regret that I must confirm that St. Eustatius has 2 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. Two people on St. Eustatius have been determined to have been infected with the Covid-19 virus. I was informed of this result at 16:40 today, 31st March 2020.

These 2 people had been in the Netherlands and arrived in St. Eustatius at the airport on March 15th. These are, therefore, imported cases. One person developed symptoms which became apparent on March 23rd. Covid-19 tests were immediately performed. Both of the patients were tested as they were travelling together and were in self-quarantine in the same apartment. At the moment neither show visible signs of being sick. They did, however, test positive for Covid-19. They are now in a safe isolation unit which has been prepared for this eventuality.

Please rest assured that our local government has already implemented the emergency plan to upscale our vigilance and safety measures to avoid further contamination. This plan was prepared well in advance.

The protocol being followed is the plan set out by our local health department (GGD) and the Dutch Medical Organization (RIVD).

Please know that our local Health Department has immediately started to trace all persons the patients had close contact with over the last 14 days. This is a priority for my Deputy, Alida Francis and I.

Dear Statians, I want you to understand that this case of COVID-19 reaching our shores is not a failure on the part of any one of us. A virus knows no borders. We have been able to keep the virus at bay longer than many of our neighbors and I am so grateful to all of you for that.

By closing our borders on time and monitoring at risk individuals (self-quarantine), we have managed to ‘buy time’. One way our community will benefit from ‘buying time’ is that we are already practicing ‘social distancing’, good hygiene techniques and other essential behaviors which are important in keeping the virus from spreading any further.

It is important to remember that Covid-19 has a high recovery rate. It is a virus which often presents only mild symptoms in patients. Even patients who develop more acute symptoms have good chance of full recovery. Covid-19 remains the most dangerous to people who have underlying health issues and also our elderly population are vulnerable. That is why we must keep following the guidelines which the local health department and our local government have given to reduce spread of the virus.

I would, hereby, like to inform you of the most recent actions taken by your local government in regard to safeguarding our population from further spread of the virus during the Covid-19 pandemic. As I just mentioned, we have 2 confirmed Covid-19 cases on St. Eustatius. One test came back with a negative result (person does not have the Covid-19 virus). We still have 68 people who are in self-quarantine. The persons who tested positive for Covid-19 virus have been moved from self-quarantine to isolation and is getting the appropriate medical attention.

As of tomorrow, April 1st , 2020, an updated Emergency Ordinance will take effect. The new ordinance will remain in force until the date it is revoked. This will be no later than April 14th, 2020. The upscaling of St. Eustatius’ State of Emergency was considered important due to the evolving situation of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide and in our region. We have taken the following measures to enhance the safety of the whole of the territory of St. Eustatius:

1. Travel ban prolonged until April 10th, 2020 at 6 p.m.

2. Complete ban on domestic travel (between Dutch Caribbean islands) unless for medical purposes and then only with valid residence permit. No transit passengers or ‘short stay’ visitors to be permitted on island (prolonged from previous Emergency Ordinance).

3. The Government Commissioner has the right to oblige citizens to be quarantined, upon advice of the local Health Department (GGD) according to the Dutch Public Health Act (Wet publieke gezondheidszorg). This is also applicable to vessels which enter our waters.

4. The harbour rules and regulations have been upscaled as well. Further details of this sharpened protocol are available on the St. Eustatius Government Facebook page.

5. Group gatherings with maximum of 25 people are allowed (previously 50 persons). This pertains to any gathering, inside or outside. This ban does not apply to healthcare facility where more than 25 persons may have to be at any one given time to safeguard public health.

6. Schools and Sports facilities to be closed until at least 15th April 2020. It is therefore not allowed to organize sports activities or practices with people other than your own family.

7. Fine/punishment policy for breaking Emergency Ordinance rules has been defined by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in charge of the BES islands (Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius). These rules will be enforced by our local Police Department, Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (KMAR) and public servants who are appointed by competent authorities. Failure to follow rules and instructions or any violation of the rules of this updated Emergency Ordinance, will be punished.

Again, I want to repeat the importance of following good hygiene practices:

• Wash your hands with soap and water whenever possible

• Use hand sanitizer if available

• Keep a distance of at least 1.5 (approximately 6 feet) from other people

For parents with small children (pre-school age), I request that you try to entertain your kids at home as much as possible within your family circle. Please do not organize play dates with other children. For parents with school-aged children I request the same. I also trust that you will be following the advice for this week ‘at distance’ education which your children’s school has provided you with.

I also want to add a personal note. I know that we are entering the period of Easter. I am so grateful to you all for understanding the necessity of cancelling the annual Easter Celebration. This decision was not taken lightly. This is a very important time of year for Christians as it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the Easter season is important to everyone as it is synonymous with revival, renewal and hope. I think it is, therefore, appropriate to keep hope in mind as we continue to be careful about how we live during this unprecedented time.

Alida Francis and I will continue to inform you regularly about the Covid-19 developments on St. Eustatius. We are doing everything possible to contain the virus. It is important that everyone is aware that keeping St. Eustatius healthy and safe is a team effort. All of our governmental organizations, local churches, volunteers, business owners, volunteers and every one of you is crucial to how we weather this storm.

On a final note, I would like to encourage you not to judge any individual who has Covid-19 or to put down or treat our fellow citizens with fear or suspicion. The virus is invisible. Please treat others just as you would want to be treated yourself. It is in times like this that we want to feel supported and not judged.

This rare event brings us all closer together by making us put aside our differences in order to unite in the face of adversity. It proves again that, in Statia we are ‘Stronger Together’.

In hope,

I remain your faithful Government Commissioner,

Marnix van Rij