Antigua PM challenges UK to donate vaccines after false claim

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne has written to Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, saying that “an appropriate response is necessary” for the damage done to his country’s economy by a Public Health England (PHE) website posting that wrongly claimed an Antigua variant of COVID-19 had been discovered in the UK.

Browne proposed that the British Government urgently consider compensating Antigua and Barbuda by a donation of 100,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

“Antigua and Barbuda is highly dependent on tourism and has long been a favored holiday destination for British tourists, but the PHE notice that went viral after it was picked up by international media, has caused hotel bookings to be canceled,” Prime Minister Browne wrote.

The Antigua leader said his country was already “reeling from the almost complete shutdown of tourism caused by the pandemic” and asserted that the PHE posting has “eroded confidence in the gains Antigua and Barbuda made in its management of the virus”.

“We now have to redouble our efforts at great expense”, he said.
Last Friday, Browne said officials of the Ministry of Health had spoken with representatives of PHE – an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom – who conceded that they erred in posting on their website any reference to the twin-island nation, in relation to persons they believed were infected with a COVID-19 variant.

In his letter, the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister drew Prime Minister Johnson’s attention to the fact that “no British visitor to Antigua had contracted COVID-19” in his country.

He affirmed that his government has enforced strict protocols for managing the pandemic and has a comparatively low level of infections and a high level of recoveries. Browne also stressed that the British High Commission to Antigua and Barbuda explicitly stated on March 13 that “there is no scientific evidence to determine where this variant first emerged” and that it regretted “any misunderstanding that may have arisen from the matter”.

However, Browne said that the damage was done from the moment that PHE erroneously published the claim on its website.

He suggested to Prime Minister Johnson that “consideration should be given to recompensing Antigua and Barbuda with a donation of 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines”.

Browne told Johnson that Antigua and Barbuda has always cherished its close relationship with Britain and he “looked forward to a favourable response to his proposal”.

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