La Soufriere, covid19 and 5G conspiracy theories

 The view from the Belmont observatory in St Vincent as the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano continues. The volcano is hidden by the ashfall and deposits can be seen on surrounding vegetation and houses.  - Photo courtesy The UWI Seismic Research Centre
The view from the Belmont observatory in St Vincent as the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano continues. The volcano is hidden by the ashfall and deposits can be seen on surrounding vegetation and houses. - Photo courtesy The UWI Seismic Research Centre

The covid19 pandemic has crippled economies around the world. For tourism-dependent, small Caribbean islands like St Vincent and the Grenadines, it has been worse as travel restrictions have exacerbated a difficult situation.

Last year, at a Caribbean Economic Forum, St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves predicted an economic "bloodbath" for the region.

He said loss of jobs, lower salaries, declining government revenue and rising debt were the recipe for serious problems.

He was candid about those problems on April 7, one day before La Soufriere erupted, while speaking on NBC radio.

Gonsalves said, "I say this with all honesty, the way things are going, they may well be in one or two months, sometime, if things continue with the straitened economic circumstances, that the government may not have the $30 million every month to pay civil servants and to pay the NIS contributions to civil servants, those who are pensionable to pay the NIS contributions for current, and to pay salaries and wages.”

The volcanic explosion could not come at a worse time.

Pyroclastic flow has devastated the vegetation on the northeast side of the island and forced residents and business owners in the red zone to flee. The orange, yellow and green zones have not been spared as inches of ash have also destroyed crops, homes and other infrastructure.

The island's water reservoirs have also been contaminated by the ash, resulting in the Central Water and Sewerage Authority rationing supply, which dipped to ten per cent capacity.

A resident in the yellow zone, who wished to remain anonymous, told Sunday Newsday, "Water is the biggest problem in the country right now. Everybody crying out for water."

A car drives through the ash covered runway at Argyle International Airport in St Vincent. Photo courtesy Remano Arthur. -

On the radio, call-in segments are inundated with pleas from the public begging the authorities to bring water to their village, even accusing them of favouritism.

TT sent three trucks of water aboard the Galleons Passage on Tuesday. But the donations from TT and other nations – so far – cannot meet the demand of an island of approximately 110,000 people.

The volcano has also shown little signs of calming, erupting again on Friday.

The resident told Sunday Newsday, people are beginning to get frustrated.

Last Tuesday, Gonsalves thanked TT for the boatload of humanitarian aid which arrived on the ferry.

An optimistic Gonsalves said the country would get back on its feet in quick time "once lady La Soufriere gives us some respite."

Asked how many people had evacuated, Gonsalves said although arrangements were made with a few Caribbean countries to provide temporary shelter, the majority of people preferred to stay and help rebuild the island.

But the resident said this was not entirely true as the island's economy is already under strain and many are keen to explore new opportunities.

"Real people was home before the volcano because of covid. And this make it worse for them," she said.

She said a requirement for all people wanting to accept temporary shelter abroad to be vaccinated was a deterrent to leave, as most people did not trust the vaccine.

"Bare complaint yuh hearing. If wasn't for that vaccine de boats ah full, and it might ah need more," she said.

One resident, who also declined to be named, said some people had seen opportunity in the eruption of the volcano.

"People was glad de volcano erupt to to get out of here ­­– until they hear the news (about vaccination).


"Dey think was dey chance. They say dey not coming back. Going and better dey self."

Speaking to Sunday Newsday, one Vincentian man acknowledged the scepticism in the population about the vaccine.

He said even though there were enough vaccines for over 50 per cent of the population, people were hesitant.

Apart from the rare threat of blood clots, there was a conspiracy theory that 5G testing on the island was causing covid19.

He said a visit last year to one of the luxury islands in the Grenadines by Microsoft billionaire owner Bill Gates started the rumour.

"People were saying they testing the 5G here."

Gonsalves has been urging the public and implementing policies for public servants to take the vaccine. The island has received 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through Covax and 40,000 as a donation from India.

Gonsalves recently issued an ultimatum, telling teachers they must either get vaccinated or be tested at least once every two weeks.

Health experts say the benefits of the covid19 vaccine far outweigh the risks and adverse reactions are extremely rare.

St Vincent’s chief medical officer Dr Simone Keizer-Beache recently announced a plan for mass covid19 testing to ensure there was no outbreak caused by the volcano eruption.

According to the National Emergency Management Office, there are over 7,400 people in shelters around the island – 4,136 in public shelters and 3,275 at private ones.

Gonsalves said on Tuesday he was working to ensure there was no overcrowding at shelters but some people preferred to stay at shelters where they knew other people.

In a recent interview with Nation News, a 26-year-old woman who fled her home and now resides in a shelter, said she would rather leave the shelter than take the vaccine.

Keandra Lewis said, "I rather go back, go meet Soufriere than take the vaccine. Me ain’t in this vaccine thing. The vaccine to me, it not 100 per cent. So me hear people ah die from it too, so rather me hear me dead from natural causes than me take the vaccine and me dead.”

Another resident said NEMO's resources are stretched and a lot of residents are still without aid.

"A whole country get affected by a volcano, not de whole country dey have to take care of?

"I have to register to get help, put down name, number and wey yuh ah live.

"I have friends who evacuate calling me and complaining that dey not studying them. All dey do is take down name and not bringing nothing. Some of them have kids," she said.

On Friday, the United Nations announced the allocation US$1 million to provide immediate relief to the volcano-stricken country.


"La Soufriere, covid19 and 5G conspiracy theories"

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