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Statement by the Dominica Freedom Party on the Coronavirus Pandemic

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DFP leader Kent Vital

Due to the virulence of the virus, the incidence of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the New Corona Virus) could greatly overwhelm the coping capacity of our health system in Dominica if we are not successful in adequately slowing the disease or preventing its further spread.  This is likely even if we had prepared as best as we could to treat people who develop severe symptoms of the disease. Given that likelihood, all appropriate international assistance that our country can access at this point must be welcomed and, in that regard, we welcome the assistance from Cuba and the People’s Republic of China.

As of yesterday (Thursday 25th March) according to the government of Dominica, there were 11 confirmed cases of COVID 19 and there were 29 persons under observation – persons who came into contact with one of the two initial cases. This can quickly become a nightmare for our country, as it did in China and as is happening in Italy and other countries. Since there is no treatment to cure or build human immunity to the virus at this point, the only weapon that the world has at its disposal is to slow the social spread of the virus in order to allow health systems to cope.

If all countries act in a timely and appropriate manner, the spread of this virus can be contained and ultimately the virus can be eradicated in humans.  To be most efficacious, there ought to be strict actions to limit the social and community spread of the disease.

Dominica must quickly learn the lessons from China, Italy, Spain, South Korea and other countries.  The Dominica Freedom Party believes that a lockdown of the Country for about three to four weeks in the first instance would be most useful in combating the COVID-19 virus.  While we would have preferred the government to act much earlier to significantly curtail social interactions even though totally precautionary, we the citizens must look past this point and do what it takes from now onwards to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, we encourage all to adhere to the current advice of our public servants to practice social distancing and to stay at home if one has no essential reason to be in public. But we further advise the government to consider the need to tighten the current, proposed restrictions including travel to areas of the country currently at the centre of the outbreak if.

We are facing a grave risk to the health of many of our citizen and the plight of our already- crumbling economy, and though it has become difficult to trust our government under the leadership of PM Skerrit,  we the citizen must do all in our power to support the efforts of the government to contain the virus where we judge these efforts to be appropriate.  In that vein, the Dominica Freedom Party will continue to put views in the public domain that the government is free to use, as they have done in the past.  However, as a political party, we will lookout for the best interest of the people and, in so doing, seek to expose any instances of abuse of power, the exercise of partisanship, and we will generally seek to help prevent our nation from descending in anarchy – an outcome that can emerge from lack of trust in the leadership of the government to adequately manage such a grave danger to a people.

As a show of good faith, we call on the Prime Minister and his political regime to desist from using this crisis as a political tool.  For instance, we note that the Prime Ministers statement at the press conference of Wednesday 25th March was replete with political intents, while with the same breath, he asked others not to make the fight against COVID-19 a political matter.  This approach is un-helpful and the Dominica Freedom Party ask that the PM to remove all politics from the country’s attempt to effectively deal with COVID-19, to include, containing its spread, attending to the sick without political considerations, and treating with the adjustment of the country once the pandemic has passed.

At this point in the fight against COVID-19, the DFP would like to make some additional suggestions to the government and the people of Dominica in that regard.

First, to avoid any chaos, the Ministry of Health should prepare and make public, a prioritization ranking policy for the care and treatment of persons with severe symptoms of COVID-19, including the use of respirators.  This is to prevent disorder in the event that the number of severe cases of COVID-19 outstrips the number of beds or ventilators available for treatment.

Secondly, we recommend that the government reconsider the intention to admit mild cases of COVID-19 to the temporary 30-bed hospital that has been established at Portsmouth.  This is because many of these mild cases may not require hospitalization and could recover at home, and hence should only be brought to the hospital if symptoms are sufficiently acute.  While admitting mild cases to the facility for observation may be feasible when there are few cases, it could quickly become untenable if the number of severe cases rises well above the admission capacity of the 8-bed intensive care isolation unit established at the China Friendship Hospital in Roseau.  Moreover, if these mild cases can recover at home without hospital admittance, then admitting them represents a waste of resources and yet would do little to prevent the spread of the disease.  Instead, we recommend that there be ongoing education of the public as to when to seek testing for COVID-19 and medical intervention.

Thirdly, we suggest that during the period of restricted social interactions and quasi-lockdown, that adequate attention be paid to the ability of the people to access essential services and food.  This means, for instance, paying attention to the ability of some persons to purchase food where they are unable to secure wages and where they don’t have savings or social support systems that they can otherwise access. Moreover, there need to be adequate arrangements to allow persons to access the supermarkets, food stores and essential services including medical services.  That may mean for-instance, encouraging adequate private sector organization to allow adequate supplies at village stores so that people can access these without the need for public transportation.  Furthermore, there should be adequate sensitization and preparation of the operators of public transportation with regards to the safe carriage of passengers to supermarkets or to access essential services. We are aware that some public transport operators are already withholding services given the fear and inadequate knowledge.

Fourthly, during the period that our children will be kept at home, preparation should be made to provide teaching instruction or learning guidance online so that children will be occupied during normal school hours. We suggest that discussion be entered into with the two major telecommunication service providers to allow this to happen in a sustainable way, without the need to place families under greater financial burden, without a high financial burden to the government beyond bearing a portion of the incremental cost for internet connectivity, and with due regard to the moral responsibility of these service providers.

Though we know that the economy was already under significant contracting stress prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are aware that the pandemic will have additional significant contractionary impacts on our economy.  We expect that there will be a need to re-set our economy – a task that the Dominica Freedom Party can help with.  We, therefore, offer our help should the government desire once they are ready to look at that aspect.  We offer our assistance because we do not want our country to decline to unrecognizable depths and we are willing for the time-being to overlook the politics.

We will make additional recommendations in subsequent statements as well as on our radio programme aired on Q95 radio every Wednesday from 8.00pm to 10.00pm and in our weekly column in the Sun Newspaper. In particular, we will provide recommendations on how to support the survival of small businesses during the quasi-lockdown, support for workers who are unable to work due to the quasi-lockdown, and on strategies to support business recovery in the aftermath of the quasi-lockdown.

 

Kent Vital

Political Leader

Dominica Freedom Party





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Dominica

COVID-19: Pronouncement of construction an essential service.

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BCAD Executive met by teleconference on 3rd April 2020 to deliberate on the Government’s consideration of construction as an essential service, as obtained in SRO 15 of 2020, and to review this new situation as it will impact and potentially affect the local construction sector within the circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic, and the sector’s collateral impact on the wider private sector and the public as a whole.

 

Contributions were received and made by the following Executive Members:

Mr Gregor Fortune

Mr Delbert Paris

Mr Kevin Henderson

Mr Melkezideck Toussaint,

Mr Steve Astaphan,

Mr Stewart Paris, and

Mr Anthony Le Blanc.

 

SRO 15 of 2020 – Emergency Power (Disaster) – (Curfew) Order

 SRO 15 of 2020 was Gazetted and came into effect on 1st April 2020.

  1. Section 7(1)(g) provides “Subject to paragraphs 3 and 5, every non-essential establishment, or business shall remain closed except for the following – … (g) Construction and manufacturing projects, … may open between the hours of 6:00 am and 4:00m pm Monday to Friday.
  2. Section 7(1)(g) (i) to (v) provides that work on-site are subject to compliance with increased attention to sanitation, provision of additional PPE (face mask) and maintenance of 2 m ( 6 ft 8”) social distances for workmen as far as reasonably possible.
  3. Section 12 limits passengers to one person per row with no passengers allowed at the front with the driver.

 

Support and Concerns:

The Meeting expressed support for activities and actions which are aimed at curtailing the spread of the COVID19 epidemic in Dominica.  That BCAD Executive supports the efforts of the Government of Dominica through the principal agency of the Ministry of Health and in general, supports the provisions in the SRO 15 which seek to encourage persons to stay home and save lives.

However, the Meeting had serious concerns with some of the provisions of the SRO 15 and its development, as it relates to the consideration of Construction as an essential service:

  • Public Information and Consultation.
  • Lack of Forewarning: The Meeting expressed concern, as was expressed in its reaction of 23rd March 2020, that the State has failed to publish a plan as to what is to be expected at each level of the COVID19 epidemic. Hence, both the pronouncements of 22nd March 2019 and that of the 1st April 2020 provided no forewarning or time to wind down activities, which would have enabled contractors to do a shutdown of non-essential or non-critical work properly.
    1. Absence of Consultation with the Local Sector: The meeting expressed surprised that the local construction sector was not consulted, and certainly the executive of BCAD had no input in the SRO which pronounced that construction projects are to be considered as essential services and ought to continue as normal in this COVIFD19 pandemic.
  • Overall responsibility of Limiting Spread of COVIOD19: The Meeting agreed that every contractor, and every employee in the construction sector, has a personal and collective responsibility to limit the spread of COIVID19, and therefore should not engage in work or other activity which has the potential to undermine the efforts of others, including the State. Hence, the meeting found that the present pronouncement of the SRO at section 7cannot be supported as:
    1. it is impractical to engage in construction site activities and expect that workmen will continually be able to maintain a 2 m(6 ft 8”) distance between them and work efficiently,
    2. given, that construction workers, on many existing projects, come from all over the island, it is, therefore, impractical to expect public transport to be readily available to carry workers to site if they are to comply with the requirement to operate at 25% capacity (1 per row) for the same fare,
    3. each exposure of a construction worker on a site or during the commute exposes his/her whole household to the possibility of infection with COIVID19.
  • Productivity and Cost.
    1. The Meeting found that the Contractor will likely be operating inefficiently, with less than ideal staffing, and at low productivity and increased cost for work which has already be priced under a contract, given the limitations provided under the curfew and SRO 15 Clause 7 and 12. It was cited that
      • it would be unlikely to have a full workday if key workmen have to commute from remote locations,
      • some workmen will not be available on account of either fear of contracting the disease, or having to stay home with minors, or having taken a proactive stance about limiting the spread of the disease, and
      • In addition to the new direct cost of the extra PPE required, these may not be readily available, and therefore require not only extra procurement cost but also, may require extra supervisory cost in order to ensure their utilisation.
    2. To mitigate against (a) (ii) above, the possibility of extra transportation cost, it is likely that the Contractor would have to contribute to commuting
    3. That it is an extra cost to the State and diverts resources from other more critical aspects of managing COVID19 if police officers or other State officials have to divert resources to ensure that construction sites comply with the requirements of SRO 15.
  1. Health and Safety and Legal Framework: The meeting noted that Contractors as employers are still responsible for the health and safety of employees on the construction site.  Therefore, knowingly engaging them and exposing them and their families to COVID19, either on the site or during commute to or from the site, places employees in a compromised health and safety situation.   Further, that any incident of infection, or suspected infection, of an employee on-site, will likely result in the closing down of the site as all employees are likely to be quarantined.
  2. Duration and Implication of Consideration of Construction as an “Essential Service”: The Meeting expressed concern, that given that Construction was considered an essential service, the majority by volume of Government procured construction services were not made available to be undertaken by local contractors or construction workers. Further, it questioned whether this pronouncement would be permanent for all other disasters, or only this time.

 

Recommendations.

The BCAD Executive therefore strongly recommend the following:

  • That all Builders and Contractors, our employees and the general public are encouraged to stay at home and save lives, unless their construction activity can impact positively on limiting the spread or management of COVID19, or in some way essential for the proper functioning of the State.
  • That generally construction workers should stay at home, spending time with family and doing the long outstanding trade work at home with the help of family members.
  • That, in the circumstances of limiting the spread and enhancing the management of COVID19, construction projects are to be generally and rightly considered as non-essential economic activities. Hence BCAD Executive requests that, until at least the conclusion of the emergency period dictated under SRO 15,
    1. local Builders and Contractors should not be engaged in, or continue, construction works as normal, neither should they endanger their employees by requiring that they attend to site work,
    2. the Public Sector shuts down its construction projects and encourages consultants to work from home, and construction workers to stay at home and save lives
    3. That where restrictions are to be imposed, some forewarning be given in order that non-essential project works are brought to a close safely and with all critical elements concluded.
  • That more private sector business organisations be brought into discussions about finding more creative ways of limiting the spread and enhancing the management of COVID19.





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IN PICTURES: Dominica parliament holds first meeting since COVID-19 declared pandemic

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The Dominica parliament convened this morning for the Second Meeting of The First Session of The Tenth Parliament where two COVID-19-related bills were introduced for debate.

Dominica News Online (DNO) got some photographs of parliamentarians, most of them wearing masks, as they arrived at the Parliament building. Photos by Cecil Clarke.





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Dominica

COVID-19: Pronouncement of construction an essential service.

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BCAD Executive met by teleconference on 3rd April 2020 to deliberate on the Government’s consideration of construction as an essential service, as obtained in SRO 15 of 2020, and to review this new situation as it will impact and potentially affect the local construction sector within the circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic, and the sector’s collateral impact on the wider private sector and the public as a whole.

 

Contributions were received and made by the following Executive Members:

Mr Gregor Fortune

Mr Delbert Paris

Mr Kevin Henderson

Mr Melkezideck Toussaint,

Mr Steve Astaphan,

Mr Stewart Paris, and

Mr Anthony Le Blanc.

 

SRO 15 of 2020 – Emergency Power (Disaster) – (Curfew) Order

 SRO 15 of 2020 was Gazetted and came into effect on 1st April 2020.

  1. Section 7(1)(g) provides “Subject to paragraphs 3 and 5, every non-essential establishment, or business shall remain closed except for the following – … (g) Construction and manufacturing projects, … may open between the hours of 6:00 am and 4:00m pm Monday to Friday.
  2. Section 7(1)(g) (i) to (v) provides that work on-site are subject to compliance with increased attention to sanitation, provision of additional PPE (face mask) and maintenance of 2 m ( 6 ft 8”) social distances for workmen as far as reasonably possible.
  3. Section 12 limits passengers to one person per row with no passengers allowed at the front with the driver.

 

Support and Concerns:

The Meeting expressed support for activities and actions which are aimed at curtailing the spread of the COVID19 epidemic in Dominica.  That BCAD Executive supports the efforts of the Government of Dominica through the principal agency of the Ministry of Health and in general, supports the provisions in the SRO 15 which seek to encourage persons to stay home and save lives.

However, the Meeting had serious concerns with some of the provisions of the SRO 15 and its development, as it relates to the consideration of Construction as an essential service:

  • Public Information and Consultation.
  • Lack of Forewarning: The Meeting expressed concern, as was expressed in its reaction of 23rd March 2020, that the State has failed to publish a plan as to what is to be expected at each level of the COVID19 epidemic. Hence, both the pronouncements of 22nd March 2019 and that of the 1st April 2020 provided no forewarning or time to wind down activities, which would have enabled contractors to do a shutdown of non-essential or non-critical work properly.
    1. Absence of Consultation with the Local Sector: The meeting expressed surprised that the local construction sector was not consulted, and certainly the executive of BCAD had no input in the SRO which pronounced that construction projects are to be considered as essential services and ought to continue as normal in this COVIFD19 pandemic.
  • Overall responsibility of Limiting Spread of COVIOD19: The Meeting agreed that every contractor, and every employee in the construction sector, has a personal and collective responsibility to limit the spread of COIVID19, and therefore should not engage in work or other activity which has the potential to undermine the efforts of others, including the State. Hence, the meeting found that the present pronouncement of the SRO at section 7cannot be supported as:
    1. it is impractical to engage in construction site activities and expect that workmen will continually be able to maintain a 2 m(6 ft 8”) distance between them and work efficiently,
    2. given, that construction workers, on many existing projects, come from all over the island, it is, therefore, impractical to expect public transport to be readily available to carry workers to site if they are to comply with the requirement to operate at 25% capacity (1 per row) for the same fare,
    3. each exposure of a construction worker on a site or during the commute exposes his/her whole household to the possibility of infection with COIVID19.
  • Productivity and Cost.
    1. The Meeting found that the Contractor will likely be operating inefficiently, with less than ideal staffing, and at low productivity and increased cost for work which has already be priced under a contract, given the limitations provided under the curfew and SRO 15 Clause 7 and 12. It was cited that
      • it would be unlikely to have a full workday if key workmen have to commute from remote locations,
      • some workmen will not be available on account of either fear of contracting the disease, or having to stay home with minors, or having taken a proactive stance about limiting the spread of the disease, and
      • In addition to the new direct cost of the extra PPE required, these may not be readily available, and therefore require not only extra procurement cost but also, may require extra supervisory cost in order to ensure their utilisation.
    2. To mitigate against (a) (ii) above, the possibility of extra transportation cost, it is likely that the Contractor would have to contribute to commuting
    3. That it is an extra cost to the State and diverts resources from other more critical aspects of managing COVID19 if police officers or other State officials have to divert resources to ensure that construction sites comply with the requirements of SRO 15.
  1. Health and Safety and Legal Framework: The meeting noted that Contractors as employers are still responsible for the health and safety of employees on the construction site.  Therefore, knowingly engaging them and exposing them and their families to COVID19, either on the site or during commute to or from the site, places employees in a compromised health and safety situation.   Further, that any incident of infection, or suspected infection, of an employee on-site, will likely result in the closing down of the site as all employees are likely to be quarantined.
  2. Duration and Implication of Consideration of Construction as an “Essential Service”: The Meeting expressed concern, that given that Construction was considered an essential service, the majority by volume of Government procured construction services were not made available to be undertaken by local contractors or construction workers. Further, it questioned whether this pronouncement would be permanent for all other disasters, or only this time.

 

Recommendations.

The BCAD Executive therefore strongly recommend the following:

  • That all Builders and Contractors, our employees and the general public are encouraged to stay at home and save lives, unless their construction activity can impact positively on limiting the spread or management of COVID19, or in some way essential for the proper functioning of the State.
  • That generally construction workers should stay at home, spending time with family and doing the long outstanding trade work at home with the help of family members.
  • That, in the circumstances of limiting the spread and enhancing the management of COVID19, construction projects are to be generally and rightly considered as non-essential economic activities. Hence BCAD Executive requests that, until at least the conclusion of the emergency period dictated under SRO 15,
    1. local Builders and Contractors should not be engaged in, or continue, construction works as normal, neither should they endanger their employees by requiring that they attend to site work,
    2. the Public Sector shuts down its construction projects and encourages consultants to work from home, and construction workers to stay at home and save lives
    3. That where restrictions are to be imposed, some forewarning be given in order that non-essential project works are brought to a close safely and with all critical elements concluded.
  • That more private sector business organisations be brought into discussions about finding more creative ways of limiting the spread and enhancing the management of COVID19.





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