Around the world there are a multitude of criteria for selecting the Person of the Year, all depending on which entity bestows this title. Nevertheless, there always seems to be some contrary opinion to every choice as opinions are always based on personal preferences and influences.
In this year’s choice it is inescapable the influence that the COVID-19 global pandemic has played in the selection process. Sometimes the choice is expected and other times a big surprise.
Here at ONELUCIAN we have decided to select a person who has done the most to influence the events of the past year. Looking at a short list it quickly became obvious that two of the choices were inextricably linked and had an almost symbiotic relationship in influencing Saint Lucia’s path throughout this past year of 2020. These two individuals are Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George and Prime Minister Allen Chastanet. So, to make it as brief as possible, here goes:
Although the Coronavirus had been in the news since December 2019 as it ravaged through China, then making its way to Europe, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, our wake up call was when the AIDAperla cruise ship was denied entry into port Castries on Saturday February 1, 2020 because of a suspected case of COVID-19 on board.
The vessel remained anchored outside the Castries harbour for hours in awaiting clearance from port officials. This one singular event launched us into the reality of world events. Later that afternoon the AIDAperla sailed away into history.
Also on that fateful day began the baptism by fire for Saint Lucia’s newly appointed Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharon Belmar-George. Her stint had begun only the previous month of January.
A product of Saint Joseph’s Convent and the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, she then moved on to the University of the West Indies (Cave Hill, Barbados) where she attained a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Advanced Genetic and Molecular Biology, and Environmental Science, then on to the Superior Institute of Medical Sciences in Santa Clara, Cuba where she did her medical degree. Soon after she attended the University of South Florida where she acquired a Masters in Public Health and certificate in Infection Prevention and Control.
Since Saint Lucia’s rude awakening to the reality of COVID-19, terms and expressions which were hardly used before were suddenly thrust into the local lexicon, becoming daily fodder for conversation.
We became familiar with the likes of PPE (personal protective equipment), protocols, social distancing, N95 protective masks, PCR tests, contact tracing, and of course the famous SI (statutory instruments). Almost overnight, St. Lucians who never read the Gazette were clamouring for what new directives were contained within the latest Statutory Instrument.
Collaborating with her regional and international counterparts were a daily undertaking. Coordinating with the Ministry of Health for the implementation of new protocols and overseeing the overall preparations of quarantine facilities and new regulations were all part of the daily routine.
Throughout this past year Saint Lucia had to chart unfamiliar waters – in fact the entire world was ‘in the same boat’ trying to figure out the best response to this novel corona virus and COVID-19.
Also in the midst of it all has been Prime Minister Allen Chastanet. Notwithstanding the critical concerns about the Coronavirus and its possible impact on the health of all Saint Lucians, the other bear in our living room was the fallout from the downturn in economic activity on government revenues. Not to mention the loss of jobs from the shutdown of the cruise ship sector and hotels. The ripple effect was fast and furious.
From the outset Prime Minister Allen Chastanet was in contact with regional and international counterparts charting a course to mitigate the fallout from any adverse effects from the virus – wall-to-wall news coverage of the meltdown in China, Europe, and The United States undoubtedly kept him up late into the night and early morning hours.
The activation of NEMAC was one of the first measures for preparedness of all stakeholder agencies and organizations. Although formed to deal with the eventuality of hurricane emergencies the Prime Minister Chastanet felt the professionals and experts who were part of NEMAC would be invaluable in a coordinated fight against COVID-19.
Emergency Cabinet and Zoom meetings were held almost around the clock, necessitating many cups of coffee to keep meetings going on.
The roles of the CMO and Prime Minister were undeniably linked, creating a necessary relationship which worked to push St Lucia’s world class response. It is undeniable that their roles during this global pandemic were critically effective for St. Lucia, and notwithstanding our small size and significantly limited resources, these two individuals have been able to guide St. Lucia’s response to a level where the population has been protected on both the health and economic fronts.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has proven that his decisions were not for the short term, with the results proving so, time and time again. While many were emotional and impulsive with their demands for action, he continued to maintain a level head while implementing practical responses to the issues as they arose.
Although we were not perfect in our responses (which country was anyway?), first world states with billions and trillions of dollars at their disposal were on their knees.
Our island of Saint Lucia was was a leader in the Caribbean as, the protocols, legislation, and even economic recovery strategies was the blueprint for many islands to follow.
The record speaks for itself, now and forever.
ONELUCIAN therefore names Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharon Belmar-George, Persons of the Year 2020