Despite having over 30 suspected cases of gastroenteritis on its hands, a top public health official today assured that Government was not about to order the closure of food establishments along the island’s sewage affected south coast.
“I know that the media want to hear about shut downs and closures . . . [but] it is not going to happen,” said Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George when asked by Barbados TODAY to comment on the specific suggestion that has been made in some quarters that the food outlets need to be closed until the current effluent leaks were resolved.
Among those who are firmly of that view is spokesman for the south coast residents and community activist Adrian Donavan, who has called on the Ministry of Health to immediately order the temporary closure of fast food outlets, restaurants and guest accommodations directly affected by the worsening sewage crisis.
While acknowledging that the call was a tough one to make, Donavan said as recently as two weeks ago that such a move was necessary because the sight of faeces bubbling at the doorstep of restaurants was akin to “selling food from a portable toilet”.
However, while admitting that the current crisis, which has so far forced two food operators to close their businesses and part of an apartment hotel to shut down without official order, Dr George said the situation was fluid and unpredictable at best, but he was optimistic that it could be controlled.
“We don’t know what is going to happen from day to day,” the top medical official said, while maintaining that the public health aspect of the sewage mess could be kept under control once food handlers wash their hands regularly and observe all other hygienic requirements.
“If it gets out of hand [on any given day] we have placed 15 environmental health officers in the area,” he said, adding that these would allow for stepped-up inspection of the businesses in the section from Top Rock to Hastings, which has been defined as the problem area.
Dr George’s comments came amid reports from residents and businesses of an easing somewhat of the sewage stench after crews from the Barbados Water Authority and the Sanitation Service Authority worked throughout the night on Tuesday to wash down the streets and to clear some of the blockage that has been accumulating in the south coast sewerage system.
The remedial efforts are expected to continue in the coming days. However, it remains to be seen how long the current reprieve will last, with a permanent fix still proving to be elusive.
Just yesterday, the Canadian government, through the Public Health Agency of Canada, issued a safety and security warning, advising its citizens to avoid the affected area. Today the United States government followed suit, issuing a similar health alert to its citizens, saying “there is an overflow of raw sewage due to mechanical failure on the island’s south coast that is affecting the water quality at certain beaches between the Hastings and St Lawrence Gap areas.
“Sewage has periodically bubbled up onto the streets, and there are reports that the overflow is reaching the beach areas,” the health alert issued on the US Embassy in Bridgetown’s website earlier today said.
In the circumstances, the US has called on its citizens to “avoid water activities in the affected areas” of the south coast between St Lawrence Gap and Hastings, and to “beware of sewage on the streets.
“If you come into contact with sewage, wash your hands, shoes, and any clothing that may have come into contact with the effluence. If you become seriously ill, seek medical attention,” the advisory states.
This follows an announcement by the Ministry of Health yesterday that 35 suspected gastro cases were under investigation
However, this figure does not take into account the suspected cases of five English visitors who claimed they fell ill with gastro after dining at a restaurant located in the heart of the sewage leaks.
Joanne Collins reached out to Barbados TODAY yesterday in an effort to contact local health authorities regarding the misfortunate she suffered, along with her partner David Heads and three of their friends for which they have since received a written apology from the restaurant in question.