DH | ‘The Daily Herald’ Persons of the Year: Front-line Workers

~ Policlinics to continue ~

PHILIPSBURG–It is no exaggeration to say that 2020 has been a year unlike any in living memory. In the mask-wearing, social distancing, wash-your-hands-with-soap-and-water and anxiety-filled past twelve months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink every aspect of our existence.

It has also made us collectively – in St. Maarten and throughout the rest of the world – have a greater appreciation for those society simply cannot do without, some of whom were taken for granted in the pre-coronavirus days that now seem to be in the distant past.

While the world ground to a halt in the face of the novel and deadly virus known as COVID-19, they protected us from harm, delivered food to our doors, watched over the sick and dying, and led us through dark days.

Without further ado – and probably without too much surprise – it is Front-line Workers who have been selected as The Daily Herald’s Persons of the Year. To them, we owe immense gratitude.

When COVID-19 washed up on the island’s shores in March, it was the medical professionals who rose to the call, like the doctors and nurses at St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) and Louis-Constant Fleming Hospital treating COVID-19 patients in specialised wings. Some worked around the clock, like SMMC critical care nurse Reangelo Martina, who spent more than two months away from friends and family as he worked in SMMC’s COVID-19 pavilion that was set up in April.

They were critically supported by scores of general practitioners, geriatric nurses and caregivers, dentists, physical therapists, and paramedics who continued offering care, as well the medical laboratories that had to ramp up operations to facilitate the processing of copious numbers of daily incoming COVID-19 test kits. The island’s pharmacies and pharmaceutical suppliers also deserve special mention, ensuring the island’s supply of medicine even during economic difficulties near year’s end.

As the virus rooted itself in the community in March, government began by closing schools, retail outlets, and recreational facilities, and implementing a nightly curfew. This was followed by a total lockdown in early April as four persons in St. Maarten died from the disease in quick succession.

It was the country’s law enforcement that was tasked with keeping the peace and ensuring that residents adhered to government’s regulations in these trying times. The understaffed St. Maarten Police Force KPSM took to the streets, manning checkpoints and checking for travel waivers and emergency passes. Some officers worked more than 12 hours per day, joined in this heavy workload by St. Maarten Volunteer Corps VKS, Royal Dutch Marines, Royal Dutch Marechaussee and the other branches of the country’s judicial forces.

They were not immune to the dangers COVID-19 presented though, and outbreaks occurred among the law enforcement ranks as the year progressed.

Firefighters too were not exempt from duty and were tested along the way, notably putting out a massive bush fire on Middle Region Hill on April 20, one which threatened to burn down several homes near the top of the hill.

But, like a fire, COVID-19’s destruction was holistic. The virus crippled the island’s tourism-based economy as global travel came to a virtual standstill in the early part of the year, only becoming a trickle towards the end. The passage of time seems to have proven Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs right when she said on March 16 that the economic fallout would be worse than that of Hurricane Irma.

Unemployment shot up and salaries dried up, some still for the foreseeable future. The lockdown exposed the social vulnerability that many of St. Maarten face, and civil servants, community and religious leaders, businesses, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and volunteers came out to organise, package and distribute food relief to the hungry.

This could not have been possible without the many workers of restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations and those labouring in the cargo and import industry, cleaning services and garbage collection.

The pandemic has also given a renewed appreciation of the Internet, as work transitioned from the office into the home. The workers of TelEm, United Telecommunications Services (UTS), GEBE and the other telecommunication companies ensured that the country could better move to the “new normal”.

With the rapidly unfolding nature of the virus, accurate and reliable information became a matter of great importance. Media personnel played a leading role, along with governmental departments like Department of Communications DComm, to provide the public with the latest developments.

Finally, on a sombre note, there were those in the community who were confronted by the loss of loved ones – not only due to the virus but also from other ailments and misfortune. The doors of funeral homes stayed open, and helped the grieving through the difficult time with limited outlets for mourning.

If there is a silver lining in this dreadful year, it is that we now have a more nuanced and inclusive meaning of the word “essential”.

Front-line Workers, this newspaper recognises your value and your sacrifices, and deservedly names you the Persons of the Year.

Bron: Daily Herald

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