HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Wednesday September 8, 2021
The Cabinet began its sitting at about 10:15 am and concluded at 5:15 pm, all members present, 4 virtually and the others face-to-face. The priest who conducted prayers also took the opportunity, following his pastoral duties, to encourage the Cabinet to continue to provide leadership that will convey the country up to recovery.
- The major issue facing the Cabinet and the nation is the number of people who continue to contract Covid daily and the impact which these infections are having on lives and livelihoods.
1.i. Cabinet agreed that the number of students and teachers who have been vaccinated would not support the intended ambition to open schools safely for face to face instruction on Monday, 13 September 2021, as had been anticipated weeks ago. Face to face instruction will therefore be delayed for three additional weeks to enable all students—12 years to 17 years old—and their teachers to become vaccinated. Janitors and cleaners, and other personnel at school, who have frequent contact with students especially, are also to be vaccinated in the weeks ahead. Certain carve-outs are being allowed by Cabinet, and these special allowances are to be announced by the Minister when he addresses the Press Conference on Thursday morning at 9:00 am.
1.ii. All teachers will be required to report to work on Monday, September 13, and several incoming classes will actually enter their classrooms for orientation. Special Needs youth are also expected to engage in face-to-face learning. However, other students will be required to utilize e-learning during the three-week period. Laptops are to be distributed to many students.
1.iii. Present at the Cabinet meeting were the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Health Inspector, the Director of Education and the Deputy Director of Education, the President of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (ABUT), and the Assistant General Secretary of the ABUT. The discussions were intense and the decision-making was characterized by a complex web of counter-arguments examined by the participants before a final decision was taken.
- The Minister of Health and Wellness explained that there are three challenges faced by the Antigua and Barbuda Health Care System which have been exacerbated by the daily increases in the number of men, women and minors infected by Covid-19, as reflected by the dashboard.
2.i. The challenges test the administration’s capacity: a. to strengthen the vaccine delivery system; b. to increase the healthcare delivery facilities; c. to grow the contact-tracing capability.
2.ii. Six medical (doctors) interns, with the requisite training, will expand the contact-tracing team that is already in place. Additional Interns will administer vaccinations, which will be added to their duties. The conversion of the NTTC on Lady Nugent Avenue, such that 75 beds are now fitted within, is one of the wisest decisions which the administration has made, in anticipation of the spike in infections; it will require additional staffing. The Cabinet agreed that retired nurses who may have an interest in filling any of the openings or posts, created by the increase in demand for healthcare services, may apply to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health. Other workers are being transferred from within the public service, to be trained to perform many of the specialized tasks alongside experienced personnel who will manage the newly-transformed Center. 2.iii. The NTTC Center will likely be blessed on the weekend and then occupied shortly thereafter by the spillover Covid-19 patients emanating from the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center (SLBMC), and the IDC at the old Holberton Hospital.
2.iv. Everyone, including the 12 to 17 year-olds, their parents or guardians, and all adults who have not yet taken their Covid-19 vaccination are encouraged to do so now in order to avoid hospitalization and possibly death. The increase in the number of infected people in Antigua and Barbuda has caused the US/CDC to downgrade the country, and for the UK to possibly place Antigua and Barbuda in the amber zone. The implication for tourism from our major markets is adversely impacted.
2.v. Those residents and citizens who have taken their vaccination abroad may submit their data to a website constructed in part to receive that info for the national database: https://vaccineantiguabarbuda.com/external-vaccination/
3.i. The Cabinet reiterated its determination to ensure that the Antigua and Barbuda School of Nursing collaborates with the UWI Five Islands Nursing School; the Parliament will eliminate from the law the limited number of nurses (set at 20) that can be lawfully graduated annually. One of the specialties which the UWI Five Islands Campus will be known for, the Cabinet agreed, is the University’s ability to turn out nurses in large numbers.
3.ii. Training of Public Health Inspectors will also follow; at present, the number stands at 40 and that is inadequate for the tasks which the growing number of covid infections must address.
3.iii. Several small hotels that have been decommissioned are to be secured by the Government to be used as quarantine centers . It is acknowledged that many persons who have been placed in home quarantine, disobey the terms of their confinement by going to the supermarket, the bank, riding in crowded buses and therefore exposing themselves to innocent others. In order to correct this unlawful behaviour, those who are placed in quarantine will increasingly find themselves directed to these manned centers that were once small hotels.
- Effective October 1, 2021, all Government employees will not be allowed to enter into the offices of the Government in places unless vaccinated. The vaccines are available at no cost, and government employees are expected to make use of the facility. Those who choose not to vaccinate will be required to take a test twice per month at no cost to them.
- The unlawful gathering at the pool of the Royallton Hotel last Saturday, was viewed by many and deemed to be inappropriate and dangerous. Cabinet expresses great concern and, on the basis of the evident breach, expects law enforcement to take the necessary punitive action. The Cabinet calls upon citizens and residents to desist from congregating in places to include on Kentish Road, on Friars Hill Road, at impromptu village bars, and other places that have seemingly replaced the closed bars and clubs. The Delta variant of the corona virus is easily transmitted from infected to uninfected adults and children, and harms those loved-ones who dwell in the same household when the liming is at an end. Cabinet is determined to ensure that the law is applied consistently to visitors and residents alike.
- There is no truth to the rumors which claim that supplies of the necessary personal protective equipment (ppe’s) are inadequate. The Minister of Health and Wellness will report to the nation on Sunday, outlining the numbers of each available to frontline workers.
- The demand for more hotel rooms is fueling the rehabilitation of the Jolly Beach Hotel, the Halcyon Cove Hotel, and other properties that are being renovated in anticipation of a good season. The Blue Heron Hotel in the south of Antigua is being rehabilitated as well, increasing the room offerings in the state in time for the winter season 2021/22.
- Cabinet ratified the decision to grant a license to the first Stem Cell Facility under the pen of Sir Molwyn Joseph, the Minister of Health and Wellness. The move demonstrates the ability of the Gaston Browne Administration to move to diversify the economy by adding new opportunities and new capital to new sectors. Last week, when ECAB assumed ownership of the Scotiabank assets in Antigua, the promise to strengthen the indigenous banks was fulfilled, and those experts, local and international, who opposed the demand made of Scotiabank by the current administration showed how timid and unlearned they are.
- Parliament will convene on Thursday, September 9, 2021, at 9:30 am, to debate at least five bills that will have their second and third readings.
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