HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Thursday April 8 2021
The Cabinet met both face-to-face and virtually, all members present. Since the Covid-19 Pandemic continues to cause significant social and economic disruptions, the Cabinet addressed these issues first and foremost.
1. In consultation with the Director of Education and the Chief Medical Officer, the Cabinet reaffirmed its decision of last week to proceed with the limited face-to-face opening of (schools’) grades and forms, on Monday April 12, 2021. Those students likely to sit exams this summer were given priority. The Cabinet today also took into consideration the readiness of Pre-Schools and Kindergarten to reopen, informed by the requirements of parents to secure child-care services as older siblings leave home for school.
i. The Cabinet therefore decided that the Central Board of Health (CBH) will examine all Daycare and Childcare centers, determine the level of readiness for receiving the infants, and to provide licenses that will allow these private sector operations to open next week, also.
ii. The Cabinet determined that a single national policy shall guide both public and private schools; hence, until primary and secondary schools are permitted to return to a more expansive schedule, the private schools are also governed by the policy-decisions rendered by the Cabinet.
iii. The Cabinet agreed that returning schools to a shift system, as previously existed, will be examined over the next seven days and may cause the Cabinet to review or alter the decision to limit face-to-face exposure to only a few grades/forms. The degree to which the infection rate declines will be a determinant factor, as well. Everyone is encouraged to get vaccinated, especially those who will be in close contact with students, the elderly, and the vulnerable.
iv. The Cabinet will also—next week—consider allowing more visitors to Elderly-care homes as more residents and citizens are vaccinated, especially elderly residents of these homes and those relatives who wish to visit them. The need for closer contact between the elderly and their family members is evident, the Cabinet agreed; those wishing to make visits are encouraged to take the vaccines that are being offered.
v. The Cabinet reviewed the four-day beach restriction which was imposed over the Easter Holiday. Since there was appreciable compliance with the restrictions and no evidences of a spike in illness, hospitalization or death in the days following, the stage is set for deciding which policy will govern the upcoming holidays on Labour Day and Whit Monday. The Cabinet has signaled its willingness to relax the hours of restriction for beach use; however, the rate of infection over the coming weeks will largely determine the policy. Reversing infection rates and eliminating the potential of a super-spreader-event are the major purpose served by the restrictions.
vi. The Cabinet will also give consideration to allowing bars to open for limited hours, and for restaurants to serve guests for a longer period each day. However, these relaxations, should they come, will strictly enforce whatever conditions are imposed, supported by fines for those who disregard the rules. Achieving normalcy gradually is the object of the Cabinet policy-making, supported by the science not guesswork.
2. i. On this day, Thursday 8th April 2021, an aircraft landed at the V.C. Bird Airport carrying 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines, acquired through the COVAX program to which Antigua and Barbuda subscribed. The Cabinet had taken the decision to vaccinate 27,000 adults in the first phase which commenced on February 17 to March 31, 2021.
ii. The second phase of vaccination will begin on Tuesday, April 13 2021, at four centers to wit: The Villa Polyclinic, the Glanvilles Polyclinic, the Multipurpose Center, and the Precision Center in Paynters. 14,000 doses will be set aside from this COVAX shipment, leaving 10,000 doses for distribution, to be utilized in two dose-applications. Five thousand adults will therefore be vaccinated, since a second dose is to be administered to the same persons who will receive their first dose from this 10,000 batch.
iii. Those most likely to cause others to become infected are being urged to take the vaccine. There are more reporting requirements imposed by PAHO for those who are vaccinated; all are asked to be prepared to answer more questions, and to bring along identification to the vaccination centers.
3. The Prime Minister informed that 1,000 doses of the SputnikV will be arriving Antigua on Saturday, April 10, at 1:00 pm, as a gift from a philanthropist. It is anticipated that a larger shipment of the SputnikV will be arriving shortly afterwards. The SputnikV has achieved very high efficacy rates, and the PAHO Director advises that “the best vaccine is the available vaccine”.
4. The Cabinet made a decision to ensure that no student is without electricity at home. Those students whose homes have been disconnected from the electricity supply will have special arrangements made to ensure that electricity is supplied to the home. All tenants and homeowners are encouraged to pay their APUA bills; those parents who have children enrolled in school and who have lost their electricity because of Covid-19 conditions, including unemployment, will have special arrangements made to secure the electricity required to power their Internet devices, and light to do homework at night.
5. It was brought to Cabinet’s attention that EC$67,000 were owed to the Caribbean Maritime Union (CMU) for tuition and other expenses incurred by Antiguan and Barbudan students who are studying at the Jamaican tertiary institution. Cabinet ordered the sum to be immediately paid, from the CIU, so that the students are allowed to matriculate.
6. The Prime Minister received a call from his Vincentian counterpart, Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, during the late afternoon when Cabinet was in session. The Vincentian leader reported that the Soufriere volcano is likely to erupt within hours or days. Evacuation plans are being organized, PM Browne was told. Antigua and Barbuda’s Cabinet offered to accommodate 250 persons if evacuation is ordered. Whereupon, the Director of NODS, the Chief Immigration Officer, the Head of the EMS, and the Manager of the Jolly Beach Hotel were invited to Cabinet. A plan to accommodate 250 Vincentians, fleeing the volcano, was immediately worked-out. The plan would be activated in the event evacuation from St. Vincent is ordered. The plan includes activating LIAT aircraft to fly the evacuees to Antigua; testing all arrivals for Covid19; providing masks and other protective gear to ensure there is no opportunity for spread of any infectious disease; and, a safe place to rest and be fed. No-one knows if the volcano will erupt, to what extent it will endanger life, and how many may have to flee from their island. Antigua and Barbuda is also prepared to ship items to St. Vincent in the event populations gather in stadiums and on playfields, and are in need of tents, blankets, cots, packaged food, and tablets to purify water.
7. i. The Cabinet held a discussion on enforcing the restrictions imposed at the V.C. Bird International Airport that disallow private vehicles to collect passengers disembarking from arriving flights. All disembarking passengers are required to take taxis since there exists a fear of infection from those arriving who are likely to display more intimacy with their family members than with a taxi driver. The drivers have been all trained and instructed in the most efficacious manner in which to treat passengers.
ii. The Cabinet further insisted that those tour operators who collect passengers from the airport are also disobeying the rules. Their tours begin at the hotels and not from the airport, the Cabinet reminded. Tour operators may NOT squeeze the taxi drivers out of the market by taking their fares by collecting passengers disembarking aircraft. That traffic is exclusively the taxi drivers’.
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