Opening Statement by Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis
Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris
on WINN (98.9) FM’s “Inside the News”
Saturday, April 4th, 2020
As prepared for delivery
- Good morning to all listening to Inside the News on WINNFM, ZIZ, Sugar City FM and generally in radio and TV land and on the various social media platforms. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Delores Stapleton-Harris – a very experienced nurse, health educator and holder of a Ph.D. in Leadership and Policy – joins me today.
- I want from the outset to ask my fellow citizens and residents to rise to the highest standard of discipline and behaviour at this critical time. I can’t overemphasize that in a real way we are at war – and discipline, ingenuity, unity of purpose and allegiance to our flag are among the tools we must have in our arsenal. It is an existential threat, which humanity faces with respect to COVID-19. Clearly, we must win the war, but we can only do so working in unity.
- We are faced with a most infectious disease with over one (1) million confirmed cases worldwide – and this number, of course, keeps rising by the hour. We are advised that COVID-19 has been the cause of death for over 50,000 persons worldwide. We are aware that it has brought a destabilization of the world, including significant reduction in economic activity in some of the key countries that spur global growth – the USA, for example, as well as China, Japan and Europe are in depressed circumstances. Perhaps, more importantly, persons are losing their jobs, as businesses through no fault of their own have to close. Tourists are no longer visiting, and everyone is smart enough to go and stay in their homes unless they must go elsewhere.
- As I’ve said before, the projection is that we will have negative growth worldwide. If we in St. Kitts and Nevis do not act wisely, we are going to be in worse trouble. I appeal to our citizens and residents to make our Federation proud by abiding with the health guidelines, staying at your homes and observing the new norms in which we must now become familiar; for example, the practice of social and physical distancing, especially when we have to venture out, but venturing out must be for a compelling reason.
- Whatever can be postponed, my advice is please postpone it. Importantly, going to Basseterre, for example, to buy some chicken wings when they can be had from a closer establishment within your community in Lodge Village, for instance, is not a wise thing to do. So we are appealing to people to support their community retail outlets as much as possible while still practising social distancing – but as much as you can, stay away from crowds! I find that verse 20 in Isaiah 26 is particularly relevant to us as we face these turbulent times of COVID-19. The Scripture passage is saying to the people: you must stay at home as much as possible.
- In our region and in St. Kitts and Nevis the situation, of course, continues to be very challenging, and we want to change the tide. We are in a war on our own soil and we have to act at our most disciplined and at our best, and sacrifice now for later victory. So some who complain about a shutdown for three days or 14 days have to appreciate it is a small – a very small – sacrifice to add many years to your lives and to ensure our country can emerge stronger, safer and healthier after the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Let me repeat that the pandemic is no laughing matter, and our people must treat the pandemic with all seriousness. Some persons are jeopardizing the vulnerable groups and indeed all of us by callous and selfish behaviour – and I must call on the guilty ones to stop their inappropriate behaviours now. Standing in crowded places is unwise. So please avoid crowds as much as possible and I dare say at all costs, and follow the advice of our health professionals and indeed our security forces. They are on your side and they are – and we are – working to protect you and so we want you to minimize your risk.
The Power Lies in You, My Beloved People
- Importantly, the advice that has been given by the health fraternity with respect to how we can protect ourselves from COVID-19 is very simple. Everyone in St. Kitts and Nevis can get it right, and I will repeat a few of the tips that have been given. Practise good hand hygiene, avoid touching any part of your face, boost your immune system, and practise social and physical distancing. By doing so, you minimize the chance of you or anyone else transmitting COVID-19.
- We are in a war against this virus, for which as yet there is no vaccine, and our medical professionals are on the front line fighting the enemy on behalf of you, the good people of St. Kitts and Nevis, and people all around the world. Their dedication to serving the community is an example, which has inspired me in these difficult times.
- I want therefore to extend, on behalf of the Cabinet and on my own behalf as the Prime Minister of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, my deepest gratitude to the health workers and medical professionals, for caring for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and indeed for advising us how to keep our country safe.
- Of course, our prayers must go out to those who have tested positive at this time. Often in my conversations with the Medical Chief of Staff, Dr. Wilkinson, he has been highly complimentary of our unsung medical heroes on the front line, and I want to name some of them and commend them, and also to let them know that at the highest level of government, we have deep admiration and gratitude for their service.
- Among the names that have come up often are Dr. Archibald, Dr. Blanco, Dr. Rubaine, Dr. Sebastian, Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Isaac, Dr. Williams, Dr. Nisbett, Dr. Julius, Dr. Browne, Dr. Cannonier, Dr. Pemberton, Dr. Connor, Dr. Phipps, Dr. Hughes, and Dr. Baez. These people, I gather, have shown a strong enthusiasm to be at the front line and to work to help us overcome this pandemic.
- Equally, I must extend our deep appreciation to the Police, who are now out there policing our streets, our supermarkets, etc., and also to the Defence Force and the Immigration Services who are helping to ensure the effective implementation of the Emergency Powers, and of course to maintain a safe and secure society for all of us.
- I want to appeal to our citizens and residents to make life easier for all of us. Take the wise counsel and direction of the Police and Security Forces, in general, and avoid being arrested. Just simply abide by the law. I salute Commissioner of Police Hilroy Brandy, Chief Immigration Officer Merclyn Hughes, Lt. Colonel Anthony Comrie, and their rank and file for outstanding service at this very turbulent time of testing in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Why we are having Emergency Measures
- I understand that some of our citizens feel that the emergency measures are too inconvenient and excessively restrict their precious freedoms. I can assure you that all these measures are necessary for your future larger freedoms and indeed for your life. In my view, it is a very small inconvenience that you now must pay – a very small sacrifice that you must now make for that better, safer and brighter future.
Stay at Home – So Critical
- Again, your Team Unity Government is fully aware of the limits that the curfew in particular is having on daily life – but for your health, for the freedom in the future, I want to advise you again: stay at home. Shop in your community. It is not worth it at this turbulent time to come to Basseterre from Tabernacle, Mansion, Saddlers, and St. Paul’s, and elsewhere, to buy milk, sugar and all the basic items that are readily available in your community shops.
- It will always be the priority of the Government to protect the lives and wellbeing of all of us. I am kept up late at nights – indeed, I spend every waking moment – thinking about the people of St. Kitts and Nevis, and also thinking about this pandemic and its impact on our health system, our wellbeing and our way of life. I am devoting all my time to this, being briefed and updated, meeting virtually with colleagues, understanding their situations, providing collaboration and support. I am doing all this out of love for my beloved country.
- The reality is that COVID-19 is highly contagious, and by limiting our citizens’ freedom of movement we are reducing the ability of the virus to spread.
- So whenever you are at home and you are frustrated: Remember that you are staying at home to stop the spread and to save lives – and the very life you may end up saving may be yours, it may be your child’s, it may be your grandma’s or your great-grandmother’s life, or it may be your friend’s or your neighbour’s life. The truth is, the more our people move around, the greater the chances of other people becoming infected.
- If everyone follows the rules, the curfew and the restrictions will save our lives.
Responding to the Virus from a Strong Position
- Yesterday, I sat in a meeting of the Monetary Council (of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union) and we were discussing this matter – the health, societal and economic impacts and the challenge that this pandemic poses for the viability of Small Island States such as those in the OECS – and I marvelled at the fact that St. Kitts and Nevis stands in a unique position as being the only member country that has been able to come forward with a substantial stimulus of a $120 million for its people, to not only assist us to deal with the pandemic but also to enable life to carry on thereafter. I say we are fortunate because we have been able to find $120 million, and at least for the foreseeable future we will not have to lay off people.
- This has not always been the case. Once upon a time, our country was challenged. Once upon a time when that challenge came in 2010/11, we had to go begging to the IMF for $225 million. Once upon a time, when that moment came, the level of sacrifice and pain was great: electricity bills went up 85%, water by 600%, increments to workers were stopped, and non-established workers were denied their end-of-year honorarium.
- The churches, the Bank, the Social Security Board, credit unions were given haircuts; they lost out big time then because the country clearly was not well managed. Clearly at this moment in time, we cannot go back there – and we do not want to go back there.
- That is why it pressed upon my mind how wonderful we have been in St. Kitts and Nevis in terms of our fiscal management as we had the conversation yesterday about what other countries need now and how they will generate it. It shows that always we must be prepared, both as individuals and as countries, for the rainy day. The truth is, nobody, no country, goes unaffected by this.
- I want to end these opening remarks by saying, I still remain optimistic and I still have faith. Whatever has been the contrariness in the behaviour of some, the vast majority of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis understand that these are peculiar times.
- They understand that harsh measures will have to be imposed, and they understand that they have to make a sacrifice now for a better and safer future. So I commend them and I hope that through their example they can, of course, encourage other citizens to relax, take some time off, understand the urgency of action now, and reconcile their behaviour with the damage their behaviour can do to others and the damage it can do to our society. All of us have to be on board.
- The employers have to be sensitive to their employees, and wherever they can take an action to improve the employees’ lot, we expect them to do so. We want all employers to be generous, and to those who have been forced to lay off workers, I want to encourage you: as soon as you can, get that information to the Labour Department so that the processing of the applications can start – and the $15 million (income assistance fund) that the Social Security has set up to deal with this emergency situation will be implemented for the good of the workers. I want to thank those who have been very quick in getting their own forms and paperwork to the Labour Department.
- Lastly, I will say this: there are a lot of views and a lot of advice given to me every day. My WhatsApp is overcrowded with advice from people. I welcome them. The Government welcomes the ideas freely given from the hearts of our people here in St. Kitts and Nevis.
- Ultimately though, it is for the Government to decide by taking into account all the various advice that has been put to us by security forces, by health planners, by other sectors of the community, the Chamber, the bus drivers, etc., to come up with the best model that will take the country through this pandemic.
- We will not be able to please everyone, neither am I interested in that. My interest right now is to take the appropriate decision in good measure that would help stabilize St. Kitts and Nevis and prepare it for a better future. So again, thanks to all of you for your advice.
- It is a fast-moving situation in which we are engaged. Every day the situation changes. So even as we impose curfews, any day we can come back and revisit them – and we will make no apology for revisiting them because every day the science is being added to, knowledge is being added to, best practices are coming into play, and our policy prescriptions will be agile and very responsive to this turbulent time.
- So again, my people, I want you to make us all proud. I want you not just to think of yourself, but think of all others and do the best you can. In moments of crisis, we can make a choice – it can either bring out the best in us or the worst in us. My hope and my inspiration will come when the majority of Kittitians and Nevisians and the majority of our residents here let this pandemic bring out the best in us. Thank you very much.