Special Focus on Martinique and Guadeloupe

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 6 (en français)

1. What is your interest in this project? 

As information professionals, we have a major role to play in contributing to better rely information and to accompanying citizens in their daily needs. The Caribbean region, where I work, faces numerous crises such as natural disasters. Professional networking is crucial to improve channels of communication between the islands, and also to exchange experiences, tools and methods. I’m currently the Vice-President of the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL), where we are dedicated to enrich this network. Therefore, I participate in this project enthusiastically with information regarding the legal responses to COVID-19 on the French territories in the Caribbean. 

2. What is the current situation in Martinique and Guadeloupe in regards to COVID-19? 

On September 20 in Martinique, there were 1290 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and 20 deaths based on data from the Regional Health Agency (Agence Régionale de Santé in French). Until August, the total number of recent cases was relatively low. Most of the cases were inbound travelers together a small amount of local clusters. However, since then, there has been a steep increase of cases. The reasons for such development might be the following: resumption of flights with Paris, reopening of professional activities, relaxation of social distancing guidelines during school holiday and the intensification of testing. 

On September 20 in Guadeloupe, there were 4487 cases of coronavirus based on data from the island’s Regional Health Agency. The number of new cases has been rapidly increasing with 1905 cases per week since September 14. There have been a total of 42 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. These last weeks have seen one of the most important surges since mid August. On September 20, 24 people were hospitalized in intensive care units. These people were diagnosed with comorbidities (obesity, diabetes, arterial hypertension).

3. What are the measures enacted in Martinique and Guadeloupe? 

Martinique and Guadeloupe are both French territories. Therefore, the prefects representing the French Republic on the territory are in charge of enacting the main response and any legal measures. From March 17 to May 11, France declared a national lockdown, which was also applicable to French territories in the Caribbean region despite its low amount of cases at the time. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the people of Martinique and Guadeloupe have requested measures to stop the arrival of cruises and flights into the islands. During a short period of time, the entry of passengers and visitors was limited due to compelling reasons. With the end of the state of emergency on July 10, inbound travelers now need a mandatory test 72 hours prior to traveling to either Martinique or Guadeloupe. Following the lockdown, significant measures were put in place in public spaces as well as private places receiving the public in general such as mandatory masks in closed spaces, constant disinfection and providing hydroalcoholic gel.

On September 23, Guadeloupe was placed in highest alert zone (zone d’alerte maximale in French). This indicates that since September 26 strict measures are in place such as closing of bars and restaurants and gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.

4. How has the government managed to keep the public informed throughout the pandemic? 

There are different levels of information. The main recommendations coming from the government (hand washing, using masks, social distancing) are disseminated in large scale efforts through spots on TV, radio and boards. 

More specific information is disseminated by: 

5. Are there any major problems when it comes to disinformation? 

We can talk about chaos in communication rather than disinformation per se. 

First, this health crisis deepens in both Martinique and Guadeloupe a crisis of trust towards the authorities. The French government has made contradictory statements throughout the crisis as it initially declared wearing masks inefficient before making it mandatory. Schools were among the first places closed as they were considered hotspots for the virus to spread. However, they are now open today in several zones declared in high alert. Children are no longer considered as vectors potentially spreading the virus while at the same time TV messages advise them not to visit their grand-parents. The ever-changing pattern of these messages are destabilizing for citizens. 

From my point of view, the second problem is the lack of simple messaging on scientific studies and the rapid publication of truths and counter-truths which are attached to ideologies instead of public health policies. 

The third problem which seems essential to me is the excess of information and the disparate treatment of information concerning coronavirus in relation to other illnesses. For example, the island of Martinique is currently witnessing an important epidemic of dengue with more than 16 000 cases since the beginning of the year, more than 6 000 people that have consulted a doctor in less than a month because of suspected cases and more than 200 children admitted to emergency pediatric units in two weeks…

6. Is there something else you would like to add? 

Yes, I do. What worries me the most right now in our French territories is the lack of any studies about the social, health and psychological impacts of the measures taken during this current crisis, primarily on vulnerable communities and children still developing their identities. Does the collateral damage at the end might risk to be higher than the pandemic itself? The question needs to be asked.

By Anne Pajard, Service commun de la documentation de l’Université des Antilles (University libraries Martinique/Guadeloupe), Martinique

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