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Stakeholders involved in preparations for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season are being advised not to compromise their plans or Standard Operating Procedures because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This was the underlying message emphasized last Friday as stakeholders met for the first of three meetings to be held jointly at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre and via Zoom to finalize and rationalize plans for what is expected to be an active hurricane season.

Chair of the meeting, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Dale Marshall, called for critical ministries such as the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training to enter discussions with officials from the Ministry of Health and Wellness to see what protocols needed to be redefined and those that needed to be established.

This, he said, was critical to determining the management of the National Emergency Operations Centre and hurricane shelters in a COVID-19 environment, while adhering to the physical distancing protocols and maintaining the safety of everyone.

During his opening remarks, Minister of Home Affairs, Edmund Hinkson, noted that predictions indicated this year’s season was expected to be above average and Barbados therefore had to be “as prepared as possible”.

However, he said, the challenge came as the country now had to prepare in the midst of a health pandemic. “We have to be strategic in our operations. We have come a far way from where we were two years ago but we need to go forward,” he said.

This year’s Atlantic Hurricane season expects to see between 13 and 19 named storms. Of these, between six and 10 could become hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes, ranging from Category Three to Five.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic, cautioned those present not to compromise planning for a major hurricane because of COVID-19.

“We have to accept that there will be elevated risks. We don’t have the resources to deal with two separate things,” he said, noting the country would be fighting two national emergencies simultaneously.

The Health Minister also called for consideration to be given to the way District Emergency Organizations (DEOs) were currently constituted in an effort to make them more effective in present conditions.

He suggested the inclusion of a Community Health Officer as part of the DEOs given what the island was likely to face during the upcoming season.

However, he stressed that in a health and disaster response, there may possibly be a situation where not all COVID-19 protocols could be upheld.

“There is no easy solution…. We have to consider, if we have an above average season, what is likely to be the impact and how many shelters would be needed for a Category Three system,” he noted.

These views were supported by Disaster Coordinator with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Ingrid Cumberbatch, who also urged stakeholders not to compromise their response to a hurricane impact because of COVID-19.

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Making reference to hurricane shelters, she noted that there needed to be a balanced and flexible plan for the worst-case scenario, taking into consideration possible quarantine and isolation areas.

“Agencies need to relook their plans and revise them in relation to COVID-19,” she said, noting health care professionals could guide the process but protocols would be required.

Director of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM), Kerry Hinds, noted that across the system there were critical resource constraints which were affecting the work of stakeholders.

However, she stated that the DEM continued to ensure that the Standard Operating Procedures were in place and that the country was “poised to respond”.

This year’s Atlantic Hurricane season expects to see between 13 and 19 named storms. Of these, between six and 10 could become hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes, ranging from Category Three to Five.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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