Published On: Sun, Jul 26th, 2020

Monitoring the situation

COVID-19 Stats per 26 July 2020

By Hilbert Haar

The explosion of corona-virus infections on our island should not come as a surprise: it was expected. One reason is, according to a press release issued by Prime Minister Jacobs, the “systematic analysis of contact tracing” by the Department of Collective Preventive Services (CPS). The department managed to identify “more cases in a short period of time.”

The latest number of new infections is unofficially reported as 69, including ten nurses. But are all these cases just the result of contact tracing? That is the big question.

But maybe we know the answer already. Prof. Dr. Jaap van Dissel, director of the Center for Combating Infectious Diseases outlined the scenario that is now developing in St. Maarten already on April 10 in a letter to the ministries that deal with public health in St Maarten, Curacao, Aruba, and the Netherlands. Our Minister of Public health Richard Panneflek must, therefore, be familiar with its contents.

Van Dissel spoke of “a long-lasting risk for the re-introduction of the corona-virus on the islands where a large part of the population is not immune.” For good measure, he added: “chances of an outbreak during the next one to two years are realistic.”

Reality hit St. Maarten faster than Van Dissel could have imagined. It seems contradictory and bewildering that closing the border to keep the virus at bay is at the same time the reason why a large part of the population is not immune. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

The Council of Ministers has in the meantime announced measures, though all details are not exactly clear. The measures include however the decision “to scale back mass gatherings.” This will affect bars, nightclubs, dance clubs, whore houses, bingos in casinos, and large public gatherings.

While there are apparently protocols that establish the maximum number of people that can be present at the same time in one of these high-risk establishments, the press release is short on details. It would have been nice to get accurate and to the point information that makes clear to the population what is in store for them.

While the Jacobs-government is apparently not in favor of another lockdown and chomping at the bit to reopen the island for arrivals from the United States, Van Dissel wrote in April that the government must be prepared to intensify interventions if there is an increase in infections.

For now, letting tourists enter is a bad idea, as Van Dissel also pointed out. This could burden the healthcare system and the hospital in particular beyond breaking point to the detriment of the local population. To quote Van Dissel: “Opening the borders for tourism is not a realistic option.”

In an earlier press release, I read that the government is “closely monitoring the situation.” This is what basketball-fans do all the time when there is a match going: they are constantly amazed by the action that unfolds in front of their eyes but there is not a damn thing they can do to change the outcome of the game.

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