by Dr the Rt. Hon. Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister
Fellow Grenadians, the past few weeks posed a critical challenge for our healthcare system but thankfully, we are emerging from what will likely be recorded as one of the darkest periods of our country’s history.
It has also been a very challenging time for leadership and decision-making, but I have always been confident that we will get through this. The resilience of the Grenadian people has been demonstrated in the past, and in this period, it is no different — there is just something about our people and the indomitable will to survive and to thrive.
The crisis is far from over, but there is certainly a rainbow peeking through the stormy cloud of sickness, death, unemployment, business closures and every other impact this pandemic has wrought on our country. The road to recovery will be long and steep, maybe with some undulating periods where we may seem to regress, but ultimately, sisters and brothers, we will get through this.
One of the most painful elements of this crisis is the number of deaths occurring in a short space of time. Death is an inevitable part of life, but the sheer volume at which we have been experiencing death in the last few weeks, was unprecedented. It was extremely painful to see and to hear of so many families facing the sudden loss of loved ones.
It was particularly disconcerting to see the number of elderly citizens we lost, the true gems of our country, those whose sacrifices laid the foundation on which we stand today — their lives obliterated, in a flash, taking with them elements of our culture, our heritage as a people. It is devastating and I am heartbroken by the sudden loss of 130 of our senior citizens. I pray that the families of all the deceased are comforted by the fact that their loved ones are resting in peace.
In the same breath, I must acknowledge that despite the loss of life, we ought to be grateful because so many others have recovered and remain with us today. To date, Grenada has recorded more than 4,300 recoveries from Covid-19. Some required medical intervention and their recovery was hard-fought. Unfortunately, many people waited too late to seek help and, in some cases, had it not been for the expertise and the dedicated care of our medical team and the invaluable support system within the healthcare sector, our numbers may have been higher.
Therefore, sisters and brothers, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our team of health professionals — doctors, nurses, community health team, orderlies, drivers, cooks, cleaning staff, maintenance personnel and oxygen plant staff — just about everyone who contributed to the care of Covid-19 patients, whether directly or indirectly. We recognise that the healthcare system is a sum total of all its parts, with each element contributing to the overall product and we, therefore, thank all of you for the critical role you play in serving the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
Sisters and brothers, the rate of infection continues to decline and the total number of active cases similarly continues the downward trend, but this came at a tremendous cost to others who were put on the breadline as non-essential businesses were forced to close their doors. It is an ongoing challenge for Government to create that delicate balance between safeguarding lives and protecting livelihoods, such is the complex nature of this pandemic.
Recognising the tremendous financial impact of the pandemic, Government has initiated a second stimulus package that will benefit a wide cross-section of the population, particularly those who are most vulnerable. Already, the Covid-19 Economic Support Stimulus Secretariat, at the Ministry of Finance, has processed more than 1,500 applications with more than 500 approvals to date. Beneficiaries approved for income support have already started receiving payments on 1 October. Those approved under SEED, will receive their first payments on 15 October. In addition, 55 small business loans worth about $600,000 and qualifying under the stimulus package, have already been approved, to help business owners recover from the impact of the pandemic and to stimulate operational growth and development.
Given the positive trend we are now seeing and the optimism of the health experts, that this will continue, the Cabinet has agreed on a number of measures that will in essence, provide an easement of the regulations that have been in place for the last few weeks.
- Effective, 5 October and continuing until 19 October, the nightly curfew will continue but will be adjusted from 7 pm to 4 am.
- The no-movement weekends will be discontinued. This measure has certainly helped to curb the rate of infection, but health experts have continuously indicated that we must learn to live with Covid-19, therefore it is imperative that we seek to resume a degree of normalcy while continuing to safeguard our people.
- Retail stores across the country will be allowed to resume normal operations but we encourage store managers to maintain 50% capacity in-store at all times and ensure that workers and patrons alike, are following the recommended protocols — the proper wearing of masks, appropriate physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings and regular hand sanitisation.
- Beaches will be accessible for an extended period, between 4 am and 4 pm daily.
- In the food service sector, dine-in services will resume for fully-vaccinated persons only.
- Gyms and fitness centres are also permitted to resume operation. Likewise, daycare centres and businesses in the beauty sector including hairdresser salons and barber shops. However, there is one caveat which is based on consultation with representatives in the private sector to help facilitate continuity of operations in the event of future spikes that could otherwise force another shut down of operations. Having consulted with stakeholders in the following industries and acting on their general recommendation, employees in the food service, accommodation, fitness, beauty, child and elderly care sectors, must be fully vaccinated, or in cases where they have received only one dose, the second dose must be administered within a specific period after the resumption of operations.
- The re-opening of schools is widely anticipated by students, parents and educators and while I am keen to see our children back in the classroom, our primary concern must be their health and safety. The vaccination rate among teachers and other personnel in the education sector is abysmal. The uptake of the Pfizer which is administered to children 12 and above, is also low at this point. Against this backdrop, it is difficult for Government to announce the re-opening of schools.
Sisters and brothers, during the past few weeks, our vaccination numbers have continued to improve, with latest figures showing that about 25,000 people are fully vaccinated. In addition, more than 10,000 people are partially vaccinated, meaning they have received the first dose of the 2-dose regimen. This is a welcome improvement in the number of persons opting for vaccination but we are still a long way from where we need to be in terms of achieving herd immunity.
I must recognise the role of volunteers in helping us to achieve the significant increase in vaccinations. Over the past 4 weekends, teams of doctors, nurses, ordinary citizens as well as faculty and students from St George’s University volunteered their time to provide testing and vaccination clinics across the country. This outreach effort, undertaken in collaboration with public health officials, made testing and vaccination more accessible to many people and contributed to about 4,000 more people being vaccinated and the Ministry of Health being able to acquire much more data on the extent of the spread of the virus across communities.
On many occasions during those weekends, I acknowledged the enormous sacrifice being made by the volunteers and it is important that I do so again as part of this national address. Volunteers, thank you for your selfless service and partnership with the Government of Grenada.
Continuing on the subject of gratitude and patriotisim, I must acknowledge the valuable contribution of our diaspora community — the doctors who have travelled to Grenada to provide physical support to their colleagues on the frontline; the many organisations and individuals, who readily donated supplies to bolster our inventory and ensure that our health team is properly outfitted to execute the challenging tasks they face. Several other initiatives are likely in the coming weeks, including the provision of telemedicine service by our diaspora doctors.
We are also grateful for the generosity of medical professionals from Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua who are currently supporting our own healthcare professionals. I must acknowledge the sizeable donation expected shortly from Direct Assist, a charitable organisation based in the United States.
I have mentioned on many occasions, that getting through this crisis requires a collaborative effort and I am pleased to see that many have seen the value in this approach, volunteering where possible and initiating and engaging in the necessary dialogue, making recommendations for improving this collective fight against Covid-19. I must make special reference here to Brother Randal Robinson of the National Democratic Congress who has been volunteering his service at vaccination and testing clinics. I call on all to follow his example.
Sisters and brothers, vaccine inequity continues to be a significant challenge around the world, but we are thankful to our international partners who have ensured that Grenada and our OECS and CARICOM neighbours receive this critical resource to help fight the spread of the virus. Government is currently engaged in discussions to source additional supplies of AstraZeneca and Pfizer. We anticipate a second shipment of Pfizer in the coming weeks.
The operations of Government have not been immune to the impact of the pandemic. Several public officers have themselves contracted the disease and while we have lost a few, the vast majority has recovered. We have implemented the necessary measures to adapt to the new environment, including the rotation of staff where necessary to ensure adherence to physical distancing, remote work where possible and greater emphasis on digital transformation and online services. We also encourage the continued enforcement of protocols across Government to ensure that public officers and the people they serve are kept safe.
Sisters and brothers, I close by saying, these unprecedented times require equally extraordinary fortitude. For individuals and organisations alike, it is not a period for the faint of heart, but we have persevered thus far and I must reiterate the need for us to continue working collaboratively, in the interest of our people and our country. It is imperative that we join hands regardless of political, religious or other affiliation. That said, we must guard against complacency being allowed to undermine the gains made. The reduction in active cases should motivate us to become even more cognisant of the protocols, ensuring that we safeguard ourselves and our loved ones, as we seek a return to some sense of normalcy.