Like many countries, France is seeing its COVID-19 cases rise — and nowhere as sharply as its overseas territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Low vaccination rates, fueled by suspicion of Paris, help explain the exploding pandemic in the Caribbean islands.
Health workers from mainland France are arriving to the two Caribbean islands to help their overwhelmed colleagues deal with record COVID-19 cases.
Hardest hit is Guadeloupe, where one in four people now tests positive for the disease caused by coronavirus—a number that doubled in a week. The situation is also alarming in Martinique. Hospitals are overflowing. Doctors say some basic medical equipment — like instruments to measure oxygen levels — are in short supply.
The two islands are now under strict lockdown, with all but essential services open. But that hasn’t stopped some residents from heading to beaches—although they’re not supposed to.
“People respect distancing and the beach isn’t crowded,” this beachgoer told French TV explaining her presence.
Islanders are joining protests like those taking place in mainland France against COVID-19 vaccines and a new health pass required to access places like restaurants and movie theaters.
As nurse protesting in Martinique told French radio that she will never get vaccinated — there are other ways, she said, to prevent COVID-19.
But those sentiments are not shared by the majority of French, especially on the mainland. Polls show most support the health pass. More than half are fully vaccinate — compared to about one in five in Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Visiting Martinique last week, Health Minister Olivier Veran urged residents to get vaccinated. Coming out of a hospital there, he noted many of the patients in intensive care were very young and were previously healthy. Now, they’re hooked up to ventilators.
But it’s a hard sell.
Suspicion of the French state is high — partly experts say, because of France’s colonial past and old health scandals… like a hazardous pesticide used on the islands’ banana plantations long after it was banned elsewhere. Critics also fault Paris for neglecting the islands’ health infrastructure. So multiple misgivings are surfacing now…along with COVID-19.