1 April 2020
We have all seen and heard of the global challenge of dealing with Coronavirus. Countries and places much bigger and better equipped than ours have been struggling to respond. Concerning as that will be for those of us who have loved ones overseas, St Helena is thankfully not in the same situation. It is my hope we can keep it this way.
As you may have heard, our situation now is that we have two people in self-isolation who have a cough and headache. They are being monitored by our healthcare professionals. Unfortunately we have a larger than normal number of older and less healthy people on this Island compared to other territories. So, to be extra cautious, contact tracing has been carried out and some people have been asked to self-isolate as an additional precaution.
I know there has been concern about compliance with the terms of self-isolation. Those who have been asked to self-isolate are given strict instructions, which they are expected to comply with. Let me reassure you that the police have the authority to investigate reports of non-compliance. In talking to my fellow Governors, the penalties available on St Helena for breaching a self-isolation are possibly the most stringent of all the overseas territories.
The Governor’s Office and many in SHG have been working constantly with the UK Government to keep the Island’s basic public services operating and, importantly, to obtain essential medical supplies. Test kits for the Coronavirus are our top priority. A quarter of a tonne of protective equipment is currently on an RAF flight to Ascension this week and will be delivered here on the return voyage of the MV Helena. More medical supplies are being assembled in the UK to be air freighted as soon as possible in April. We are also working to finalise a way to get visitors back to the UK and beyond, through a charter flight via Ascension. This will take a little more time to arrange, but if all goes well, we should expect it in around two weeks’ time. The flight will also bring in supplies and have seats available for visitors to get to the UK. Availability of seats will be prioritised by the Governor’s Office. Visitors should contact Jane Roberts (firstname.lastname@example.org/+290 22158) to register your details if you wish to leave the Island.
Given reports of inaccurate test kits being used in some countries, it is important that we receive good quality test kits and the laboratory equipment needed to determine the results. Unfortunately the PCR machine we have on St Helena requires specific types of supplies to permit its use and these are simply not available. Other overseas territories are having the same problems sourcing these specialist supplies for their types of PCR machine. The UK Government has now identified test kits and an alternative PCR machine, but it is taking time for them to be delivered. I have asked London to prioritise these items for the forthcoming charter flight.
I was pleased to hear late on Tuesday the South African authorities will allow emergency medevacs. We are making sure that E24 and MSO logistics are aware and allowed to fly these essential operations. We are also working with South Africa and the British High Commission in Pretoria to establish whether cargo handling facilities (ports and airport) are still operational and whether, in the future, humanitarian flights can come from South Africa.
All of this has been possible because of a large number of people and organisations working together to support us, including Councillors, SHG, Governor’s Office, the FCO in London, DFID, businesses and St Helenians. We really cannot successfully prepare and overcome the risk of this virus without a unified effort.
Some may not agree on all of the measures being taken, some will want more and others less, but those that are now in place have the serious purpose to help you protect yourself and your loved ones. They are based on medical and scientific advice from Public Health England (PHE) and the World Health Organization (WHO). I am aware some people want to go further immediately. We have all seen that extreme measures in some countries, including the UK, have started. ‘Lockdown’ has become the most prominent word of the year in the media. On St Helena, lockdown is not where we need to be at this current time. The virus has not become established on the Island. However, the Incident Executive Group (IEG), made up of councillors, SHG officials and myself, is the controlling body overseeing the Coronavirus response. Rest assured, the IEG will not hesitate to escalate measures if or when it is appropriate to do so, based on the medical and physical evidence in front of us.
At times like these, it is crucial that we pull together as an island, using our good nature, compassion and resourcefulness for the greater good. It is a time to be wary of wild speculation and to challenge attitudes that undermine what we all trying to achieve together. We are all learning together, dealing with new challenges as they arise, so I am asking for your understanding as we all try to deal with the situation as best as we can and with the limited resources we have at our disposal.
We will not get everything right. No country can in such a fast-moving environment. I know everyone is doing their best and will continue to do so. But councillors, SHG and my team cannot do it without you. We all have a role to play, whether it is volunteering to assist, helping the vulnerable with their errands, going to work to help the public, or doing our bit through social distancing. We are also reliant on everyone complying with self-isolation, whether in self-isolation yourself or if you are a friend or family of someone in self-isolation. Thank you and together we shall prevail.
Governor Dr Philip Rushbrook
1 April 2020