Minister of Health and Wellness, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic (second left); Permanent Secretary, Janet Phillips (third left); Deputy Permanent Secretary, Cheryl Alleyne (second right) and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kenneth George (right) visited staff at the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory on the last stop of the tour. (GP)

“Minister, we have our first case of COVID.”

While those words from Director of the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory, Songee Beckles, were not what he wanted to hear, Minister of Health and Wellness, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic, knew it was inevitable that the pandemic that was devastating the rest of the world would eventually reach the shores of Barbados.

This was one ‘storm’ that not even Barbadians could dodge. Minister Bostic recounted the early days of the COVID-19 fight as he toured the island’s isolation facilities and the public health laboratory yesterday to mark the first anniversary of the first recorded case of the virus here on March 17, 2020.  

He also wanted to show his appreciation to the staff at the various facilities, who worked relentlessly over the past year on the frontlines. The Minister recalled how he felt after receiving the news about that now historic case.

“Honestly, it felt strange. Even having to report it the next morning, it felt strange. And after a while, we were very relieved that we had gotten past the first case knowing very well that it would become the norm in terms of getting cases and that is where we are right now.

“I also remember those days because that case would’ve been dealt with at the Enmore Isolation Facility – a four bed facility. And we’ve come a long way since then from Enmore to Harrison Point, from Paragon, which was used also as an isolation facility to Blackman and Gollop and we’ve gone from Blackman and Gollop to a number of isolation hotels,” the Health Minister pointed out during the first stop of the tour at the Harrison Point Isolation Facility.

Over 3,400 confirmed cases after that first case and 39 deaths later, the fight against this invasive enemy rages on. It has called for more human resources from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which staffs the facilities as well as for more expertise and supplies.

Minister Bostic lauded Head of Isolation Facilities, Dr. Corey Forde, and his team “from doctors, nurses and orderlies to general workers” for pulling their weight and always rising to the occasion.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic presenting staff of the Harrison Point Isolation Facility in St. Lucy with tokens of appreciation for their hard work. Looking on are (Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kenneth George (second right) and Manager of Isolation Facilities, Dr. Corey Forde (left). (C. Pitt/BGIS)

“The reason why I started here [at Harrison Point] is because I wanted to say … the people who work at this facility continue to place their lives on the line; some of them contracted COVID…. And I think that they epitomise my mantra of ‘no retreat, no surrender’ better than most people in this country because irrespective of the challenges, they’ve always found solutions.

“I remember when we had serious issues and decisions were made by these fine people to make Dodds Prison an isolation centre. The decision had to be repeated when we were dealing with a nursing home that had to be made an isolation centre and taken over by the Queen Elizabeth hospital. These kinds of challenges brought out decision-making at its very best.  In the heat of battle, there was no retreat and no surrender.  This country owes a debt of gratitude to all of these fine men and women who work in these facilities,” he emphasised.

He said just a short few weeks ago, the isolation facilities were dealing with “700 or 800 positive cases” but now the numbers were down to about 200 cases. This, the Minister noted, was testimony to the level of care at the facilities “which is second to none in this world”.

Turning his attention to Government’s response to the pandemic, Minister Bostic said he believed it was managed “very well” at almost every stage. He did admit that there was one area in which he would’ve done things differently.

“I still maintain that our entry protocols were solid and they were so for several months. The area that we need to tighten up on is the protocols in relation to visitors in hotels in quarantine and we’ve been able to do so through technology by providing additional manpower for monitoring. We have a better monitoring system and a monitoring unit now that is able to help us in this regard. That is one of the things that I would’ve done differently or improved and now it has been improved,” he stated.

Minister Bostic said the tour was not meant to celebrate but to mark the first case and show Barbadians just how far the country had come in one year.

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