HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Thursday 5 August 2021
The Cabinet met two days following the last holiday in the annual August holidays calendar. Several Ministers have gone off on vacation, and two chose to use the virtual platform. The Prime Minister chaired the meeting from about 10:30 until 12:30 when he left for the airport to fly to St. Lucia. He was invited there to witness the inauguration of the St. Lucia Labour Party Government, successful at the polls ten days ago.
- The issue of Covid-19 continues to occupy the close and unwavering attention of the Cabinet, sixteen months following the March 2020 closure of the borders of Antigua and Barbuda.
1.i. The Cabinet received a letter from the Trade Union Congress (TUC) indicating its unwillingness to participate in any further consultations with the Cabinet on the issue of the recent policy position announced by the Cabinet that frontline workers and workers who are likely to come into contact with vising Tourists and who remain unvaccinated will be required to undergo a rapid test once every 14 days, failing which they will be asked to stay at home or will be barred from conducting their trade with the Tourists. The TUC letter falsely premised its argument on what it called “mandatory” vaccination and testing. The TUC noted that Cabinet had already announced the $50 fee it intended to charge workers for taking the Covid-19 test, down from $150 since the TUC indicated that the fee was burdensome.
The Cabinet noted the TUC’s leadership position; however, the TUC could not reasonably expect the Cabinet to halt its successful decision-making until the TUC changed its mind. Following further intense discussions, the Cabinet decided to eliminate the $50 fee for all public sector employees. The Cabinet would provide Government employees—whether employed by the Central Government, its Statutory Organizations, or its Public Authorities or Public Corporations—who remain unvaccinated, to take the option of a MoH prescribed Rapid Antigen Covid-19 test once every 14 days at no cost to the government employee. This Cabinet decision removes the cost factor which the TUC claimed was a harsh burden requiring consultations. The Cabinet reminds that the vaccine will prevent hospitalization and death; and, further, that 90% of those who are falling prey to the virus and get hospitalized remain unvaccinated.
Institutions in which people are housed, to include the Prisons, the Fiennes Institute, the Clarevue Hospital, the Home for Girls, the Boys Training School, and others will have the same policy applied to employees also, and to the adults living within.
1.ii. The Cabinet invited The Chief Medical Officer (Acting), the Head of the Laboratory at the Sir Lester Bird Mount St. John Medical Center, and the Director of Education (Acting) to meet with the members in order to devise and to implement smoothly a plan to roll-out application of the Pfizer vaccine to approximately 8,000 students 12 to 18 years old, enrolled in public and private schools across Antigua and Barbuda. The three officials stressed the need for consultations with teachers and parents, in every secondary school or across districts, before the roll-out begins; the object is to commence prior to the start of the new term. The framework of a plan was articulated, and following consultations with Principals and others in authority, and securing the buy-in of the parent-participants, will be sought. The officials will return to Cabinet next Wednesday to present the plan and to seek the Cabinet’s approval.
The Pfizer vaccine, scheduled to arrive Antigua in weeks, will be used exclusively until other vaccines are tested, and the peer reviews are completed and approve of those vaccines just as Pfizer has done.
1.iii. The Cabinet was informed that 62% of all teachers were vaccinated, and that the object is to have 100% of teachers fully vaccinated since they come into contact with students who are now vulnerable to the Delta Strain of the Covid Virus. One of the officials voiced regret at the falsities that have been spread around— especially on radio and social media—that influence professionals who can think for themselves. The official expressed surprise that far lesser educated people are influencing their superiors with falsities and lack of evidence. The National Technical Working Group will seek to expand its role, making public education and refutation of false claims among its work.
1.iv. The former Naval Base is to become an Isolation Unit for those found to be infected with Covid-19 virus. Jolly Beach has ceased to be a Quarantine and Isolation Facility. Homes will sometimes be used as Isolation Facilities when the Officer determines that the person can be trusted to remain there. Bracelets can also be added to provide greater assurance. The curfew hours remain at 11:00 pm to 5:00 am, with a few exceptions for frontline workers, doctors, nurses, fishermen and farmers.
- The Cabinet has learned of the challenge facing those businesses and outfits that produce uniforms for schools, and who have not received monies owed to them. The Cabinet agreed that it is necessary to secure funding for those seamstresses and other providers of school uniforms. Consultations with the Treasury is to follow as Cabinet seeks to ameliorate these hardships which the suppliers face.
- The Cabinet was provided an update on the Sargassum that has invaded many of the beaches and bays on the Eastern shores of Antigua. The seaweed is being harvested by an entrepreneur who has collected toms of the stuff for shipment to a plant in Finland where it will be turned into a useful product.
- The Minister of Health Wellness and the Environment gave the Cabinet a report on his presence in London where issues relating to global climate change and the impact on islands are set to be on the Agenda of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) will take place in the Fall. A discussion about cost and damages was introduced by the Minister and the subject is to be placed on the COP26 Agenda. The Ministry of Finance, working with NIODS, is to provide the aggregate cost of damages since 1989 when Hurricane Hugo first struck Antigua, following the 1960 Hurricane Donna.
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FYI: 5-8-21 iNews
“”The United States is currently reporting the highest number of new daily covid-19 cases worldwide at roughly 100,000 per day, more than double the new cases in India, the second highest.”
Yet we freely welcome vaccinated & unvaccinated Americans with little checks and balances under the Tourism Flexibility program.
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