HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY MAY 19 2021:
The Cabinet met both face-to-face and virtually, all members present. It is the custom of the Gaston Browne-led Cabinet to extend invitations to experts and officials in order to enhance decision-making.
1.i. The Cabinet invited the Chief Medical Officer and the Head of the Sir Lester Bird Mount St. John Medical Center Laboratory to the meeting in order to have the officials address a further loosening and tightening of the controls regarding visitors and returning residents entering Antigua and Barbuda.
The gazetted regulations currently call for a PCR Test, administered no more than seven days before getting on board the aircraft heading for Antigua. For those who are fully vaccinated–meaning, those who have taken the two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, or the single dose in the case of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine–entry into Antigua and Barbuda ought to be made easier.
However, because of the new strains of the virus that are more easily transmissible, the number of days for which the PCR test is to be administered prior to travel is reduced to three. This requirement will be made effective on June 1, 2021. The same three-day rule will apply to those who are not fully vaccinated, or those who have not been vaccinated at all.
1.ii. Upon presenting themselves to the Quarantine Authority at the V.C. Bird Airport, a PCR Test will be administered at that point of entry. Those who are visitors will be dispatched to their reserved place at a biosecure space at one of the hotels that had been certified by the Central Board of Health; those who are residents and have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to return to their homes.
Other arriving passengers–who are not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all–will be dispatched to either the Government Quarantine Center, or to their homes depending upon the conditions at the private residences.
1.iii. Those who are fully vaccinated will then have their airport test results revealed in 48 hours and be allowed to end their quarantine immediately, if the results are negative; those whose test results are positive will be required to spend 14 days in quarantine and be tested a second time before their release on the 14th day.
Those who are not fully vaccinated or who have had no vaccinations administered will also have their test results revealed within five days, and may be allowed to end their quarantine within seven days, following arrival, if the results are negative. Arriving passengers may pay for the tests in advance.
The Cabinet encourages every adult in every household to get fully vaccinated and to do so certainly before they travel away from Antigua and Barbuda. The Cabinet reminds that many of the destinations served by departing aircraft will shortly require all visitors to those cities and countries to which the aircraft fly to be fully vaccinated.
2. Four officials from the Ministry of Finance reported to Cabinet on the state of the country’s finances. Many borrowing sources have been fully exhausted, locally, and moratoria granted by local banks to the Government will soon come to an end. Until such time as the revenue situation improves, the days ahead will be extremely challenging, they informed.
The Covid-19 disease has had a terrible impact on revenue, reducing the same by more than 40%. A Cabinet Sub-Committee was formed for the purpose of examining various options. Ending many of the concessions granted to existing businesses, including hotels, will be brought to an end.
Cabinet repeated its earlier-announced policy of ending duty-free concessions on automobiles, earth-moving equipment, trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles entering Antigua and Barbuda.
3. The Solicitor General reported to Cabinet on the progress made in the Ministry of Legal Affairs in its negotiations with PV Energy. That firm was contracted to provide several solar electricity plants and batteries for storage. There occurred a stumbling block over payment for the batteries, and a cash transfer made to PV Energy, yet no batteries were delivered.
Following several amicable meetings, PV Energy agreed to provide the storage batteries and one more payment is to be made by the APUA for the batteries. That conflict is therefore settled, the Solicitor General reported.
4. The Minister of Health reported to Cabinet that nearly 3,000 adults have taken their required second shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine as required, in order to boost efficacy. The Minister advised that no evidence of the dangerous Indian strain of the coronavirus has yet been discovered in Antigua and Barbuda.
Now is the time to take the vaccine since it will ready the immune system to fight the easily transmissible strain, preventing hospitalization and death. The crisis in India can only be replicated if unvaccinated adults become victims of this highly contagious and dangerous strain.
5. The University of the West Indies Five Islands Campus reports that 25 students have enrolled in the Computer Science Program recently announced and added to the curricula. It is a good sign, the Minister of Education reported, since there is no doubt of the need to develop expertise in this area.
6. The Minister responsible for Sports announced that negotiations are currently taking place to have continuous international cricket played between June and October.
7. The Lower House of the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda will meet next Tuesday, May 25, 2021, where several bills will have their second and third readings.
8. The Cabinet held an intense discussion on the evolving culture of Antigua and Barbuda, finding the need to build strong community and familial bonds that can act as binding elements during emergencies and crises, such as the region and the world are now experiencing with Covid-19.
The Cabinet is very much aware that the hurricane season will soon be upon us, starting June 1, 2021, compounding the demands made on all institutions and social-change agents to include the church, NGOs, and government agencies.
The Cabinet established a sub-committee comprising the Ministers of Social Transformation and Education to begin a serious inquiry into making the next generation pay more attention to past cultural norms which served the nation and its people well.