With more than 500 active cases (see related story), there can be little doubt that St. Maarten is in the middle of a new COVID-19 wave as the Omicron variant takes over. Apart from requiring testing also from vaccinated visitors, no additional measures on top of those already in place – including a 3:00am business closure – have yet been announced.
The main reason is that effects of this latest mutant seem to be generally milder than its predecessors. There are therefore fewer hospitalisations, obviously a key concern.
However, healthcare may also come under pressure due to personnel shortage resulting from infections among medical staff and having to quarantine, whether symptomatic or not. The same could happen in other essential sectors such as law enforcement, making limiting the local spread important in that sense too.
Even though children are now said to be prime carriers of the disease, schools reopened Monday as planned with face-mask wearing in the classrooms. People who disagree should keep in mind that parents having to stay home to watch their children would mean more employees unable to go to work at the height of the busy season, while the tourism economy is only just recovering.
Besides, recent experience with online teaching showed that not all pupils have access to the necessary electronic devices, Internet and social circumstances at home for optimal distant learning. This directly affects equal opportunity in education.
Targeted precautions such as the ones applied by White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation (WYCCF) appear the most logical and pragmatic approach for now. The lines at the testing site in Hope Estate indicate a sharp rise in cases, but at the same time it is encouraging because people realise the value of knowing and hopefully isolating.
In addition to less severe symptoms, a possible silver lining is that Omicron infections do not last very long. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently approved five instead of ten days quarantining with no symptoms.
If the current outbreak is kept manageable, it might prove a large but rather short-lived threat.