The Cabinet met for more than seven hours, members meeting both virtually and face-to-face.
Following prayers by the visiting pastor, the Cabinet expressed their best wishes and their high regard for National Hero Sir Lester Bird who underwent an amputation on account of diabetes. Prime Minister Browne visited with the hospitalized Sir Lester. Upon the advice of the Minister of Health, a vascular surgeon is to be employed by the MSJMC in order to reduce the number of amputations annually.
1. The Cabinet invited the Chief Health Inspector and the Chief Medical Officer to provide advice on the further gradual opening of the economy and the loosening of restrictions during the State of Emergency and the Health Pandemic, on the basis of a lowering of the infection rate:
i. Gyms will be allowed to operate beginning next Monday, April 26, 2021, following an assessment of the 20 registered gyms by the Chief Health Inspector or her Representative, and under certain conditions:
a) all patrons and operators are to make appointments to utilize the gym;
b) all patrons and operators are required to wear face masks throughout the time spent within the gyms;
b) no patron may remain in the gym for more than one hour;
c) frequent sanitizing of the machines and the places customers touch is required.
ii. Bars and clubs will remain closed until further review by the Ministry of Health and the Cabinet. Bars provide the ideal conditions for the spread of the virus.
2.The Head of the Ecclesiastical Commission was accompanied by five pastors of the Independent denominations, seeking to have Cabinet expand the number of congregants which can gather for regular church services. After hearing from each of the pastors, the Cabinet agreed that, with infection rates falling, the restriction which limited attendance to 25 persons is withdrawn. Churches may revert to the position which governed last June 2020. The number of congregants allowed in church will be determined by the size of the edifice. The congregants are to sit six feet apart, except for households that are allowed to sit together but six feet away from the next household or congregant. The Cabinet noted that the church community is the most compliant with the protocols.
i.The Churches have also agreed to encourage their congregants to take the vaccine. The church leaders indicated that they were already exhorting their congregations to vaccinate. For those who claimed that their decision not to vaccinate is personal, the pastors noted that there can be no such personal decision when infection of others is a probability; both are incompatible.
ii.The mental health of those who must remain in isolation for weeks was also discussed by the pastors; their congregants require consultations and certified experts have been recruited to assist with this element of their pastoring.
iii.Funerals and weddings remain at 25 persons because of the intimacy which is practiced historically at these events. Attendees are discouraged from loitering at the cemeteries but to disperse following burials. The selling of drinks on the outside of the cemeteries is also discouraged since it causes clustering and a greater probability of infectious spread.
3.The Cabinet agreed that a second register will be developed for those who have been fully vaccinated abroad and have returned to Antigua and Barbuda where they reside. Those who have been fully vaccinated abroad will have to present the evidence, and their names will be entered into the registry. Those vaccinated in Antigua and Barbuda are already entered into a database which is a permanent record of the dates, the type of vaccine, and other pertinent data which health professionals require.
4.The Ministry of Health and Wellness, in collaboration with ABS-TV, will be holding a Vaccine Zoom Party on Saturday, April 24, 2021. The event is aiming to reach youthful Antiguan and Barbudan citizens and residents primarily, who are among a group that think of themselves as invincible. Doctors and entertainers will collaborate to get the message out to this group to seek vaccination.
i.It is agreed that herd immunity can be achieved when 70% of the adult population (numbering 70,000 to 80,000 souls) or 60,000 to 70,000 residents have been vaccinated. The published figures are important to source markets as the travel agents and tour operators decide on a safety basis where to dispatch their clients. Already, Antigua and Barbuda is among the 18 top states worldwide to achieve significant vaccination levels of their population per thousand.
ii.Two cruise vessels have occupied berths at the piers off High Street and Nevis Street for these past 5 nights. They are seeking shelter from the volcanic ash fall since La Soufriere in St. Vincent erupted more than a week ago. However, Antigua will host several vessels that will homeport here, picking up and discharging passengers at Heritage Quay. The homeporting vessels will also purchase services and utilize taxis to take their passengers and crews to and from the airport and hotels. This decision will result in a boost to economic activity.
iii.Work on readying the Fifth Berth in St. John’s Harbour to receive the OASIS class ships–the largest in the world–continues during this period. By October 2021 the dredging and expanding of the channel and turning basin will be completed. The massive vessels will begin arriving in November 2021.
5.Upon the recommendation of the CMO, the Cabinet has agreed to order 50,000 SputnikV vaccines. The Russian vaccine is a two-dose vaccine that is in great demand and being gobbled up by many European countries. Residents and citizens may then have a choice between the Oxford AstraZenica and the SputnikV, in due course. Everyone age 18 and older is encouraged to be vaccinated. The mobile vaccination unit will be out again on Saturday 24 April 2021, to facilitate those who may otherwise not be able to visit the four centers that are fully operational from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm each weekday.
6.The Cabinet agreed that the beaches will remain closed on the upcoming holidays: Labour Day May 3, 2021, and Whit Monday, May 24, 2021. The experience even during this period, on Sunday afternoons, is a flocking to the beaches with coolers and music blaring from cars. The danger to the entire population from these gatherings suggest that the numbers on holidays would be greater and would result in the spread of the virus, especially by those who are asymptomatic.
7.The Cabinet has agreed to move forward on the registration of leases on Barbuda, requiring a cadastral survey that will be undertaken primarily from aerial shots. It is agreed that all of Codrington, where houses are clustered, will be listed as one parcel at this time, and that legitimate leases of land will be clearly demarcated as in the Antigua Land Registry. The three Registrars were invited to Cabinet in anticipation of the work which their departments will have to undertake.
8.The Cabinet received an update on the CMU students and the payments made by the Government to the students and to the tertiary institution. The Head of the Port indicated that students were paid their stipends despite the reduction in revenue by the Port Authority; the initiative was negotiated by the Port Authority in collaboration with the Central Government. The Treasury has paid what is owed under the agreement. However, a new management at CMU has unilaterally changed that agreement, requiring fresh negotiations. The students have been registered while a reconciliation continues.
9.The Cabinet held a discussion regarding the Industrial Court. It appears that the three judges have reached age 80 years, and that alternative judges need to be considered. The Cabinet agreed to undertake a search.
10.The renaming of Mount St. John Medical Center to the Sir Lester Bird MSJMC will soon be undertaken. A three-person Cabinet team is charged with the responsibility to select a date next month for the event.
11.The Cabinet agreed to strengthen Internet capability at both secondary and primary schools throughout the nation. Because of the large number of Zoom and Skype meetings that are now being held, and the virtual learning which has become commonplace, the capacity of the delivery systems is challenged. APUA has already secured funding to achieve better broadband capacity.
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