The Cabinet met face-to-face and three members chose to attend virtually. The Cabinet meeting lasted nearly eight hours and, as is the custom of the Gaston Browne-led executive body, officials and other experts were invited to the meeting in order to enhance the decision-making of the body.
1.i. The Cabinet invited the Chief Medical Officer and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of health to address the changed policy of allowing a seven-day quarantine for those who, upon entering Antigua, can show that they have been fully vaccinated (i.e. received the two doses of the vaccine, when two are required).
The Cabinet was advised that many of the systems that would allow the process to be implemented are not yet fully in place. For example, teams to travel to the homes and the hotels where the fully vaccinated men and women can be found, must be organized to enable Covid-19 testing; the challenge is not limited to transportation only, but ensuring that the places are sterile, and the amounts to be collected for the testing service are paid. These processes are being put in place and will be organized shortly.
The quarantined men and women who test on the fifth day of quarantine will receive their negative test result within 48 hours (or two days later) and will be allowed to vacate quarantine and to join their family or to move about beginning seven, and NOT 14 days later, in the community masked, socially distanced, and continue to wash and sanitize their hands.
1.ii. Five promoters of Carnival fetes and other kinds of large-group entertainment events were invited to Cabinet by the Minister responsible for the Creative Industries, in order to seek approval for the conducting of the large public gatherings in the months ahead especially at Carnival.
The promoters agreed that vaccination of the promoters, their patrons, and their guest artistes is a prerequisite to holding those parties and fetes during the Carnival holiday period and beyond; it is agreed that Covid-19 will still be a challenge to Caribbean civilization and tourism economies until, and even after, herd immunity is achieved. The promoters/organizers were accompanied by a Superintendent of Police, the Chief of the Festivals Office, and the Ticket Sales Agent who are integral to the holding of these large public events.
After intense discussions, it was agreed that a vaccine regime for all fans and events organizers, requiring the presentation of vaccine certificates and a government-issued identification, in order to enter. Tickets are to be purchased in advance of the events and the names of the purchasers and the date of their vaccination must be provided in order to purchase the tickets; there will be no switching and the patrons will be provided colored bracelets upon entry to ensure that they can mingle freely while obeying the protocols established.
If all the systems are put in place, the first of these events will take place on July 16, 2021, the start of the Carnival season. Everyone is encouraged to be vaccinated, and everyone intended to attend these fetes must also be vaccinated almost immediately and not wait until days before the events.
1.iii. Bars and clubs will open next Wednesday, May 19, 2021, having assured the Ministry of Health, the Chief Health Inspector and other Enforcement Agencies that all the protocols agreed-to are in place and obeyed. Several meetings have been held with the owners of the bars and they have put forward acceptable arrangements, the basis of which provides them the opportunity to open.
The owners and their employees have all been vaccinated; patrons must obey the protocols including temperature checks, the washing and sanitizing of hands, and tables that are socially distanced to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus. Those bars found to be in violation of the rules will have their liquor licenses revoked, and will be compelled to shut down for long periods.
1.iv. The members of Cabinet will take their second jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine, beginning Thursday, May 13, 2021. Other Parliamentarians, including retired parliamentary representatives, will follow on Friday and Saturday. Concurrently, a system of providing second doses to all who received their first dose, will be added to those who are seeking to have their first dose administered on Thursday and in the days ahead. The four centers will remain open on Thursday and Friday, and the mobile unit will be deployed on Saturday. Vaccinated adults who planned to travel have had their second doses administered in the days just passed.
2.I. Hotels, shops, taxi-drivers, tour bus operators, tourism-designed places of interest and entertainment, have agreed to ensure that all employees and employers are vaccinated; further, the vaccinated workers and managers will wear broaches that identify them as having been vaccinated.
2.ii. Three leadership representatives of Taxi Organizations from the Airport, Heritage Quay, and St. John’s were invited to Cabinet. They all reported that, upon entering their vehicles, visitors asked if they were vaccinated. In order to forestall that questioning and to bring credibility to the answer, these pins and lapel identification plates will identify the person wearing such a device as a person who has been vaccinated.
These steps are being taken to stop the spread of the virus, to get Antigua and Barbuda into the green zone (as described by the British Government) with other Caribbean countries competing for tourists, and to ensure that the state can be moved to a safe place (Category 1 on the US-CDC list of countries), and to meet reasonable criteria for passengers when returning to their home countries after a leisure visit to Antigua and Barbuda.
Herd immunity is being sought and will be achieved by Antigua and Barbuda without compulsion, although that remains an option if a sufficient number of resident adults do not come forward voluntarily to take the vaccine
2.iii. The Taxi Organizations representatives enquired about a rate change that has long been promised but has not materialized. The Cabinet gave the leaders the assurance that come May 15, 2021, those rate changes will apply. The new rates affect only those in the tourism sector and do not apply to the local rates. The leaders were very pleased with the assurances, and left the meeting satisfied that their interests have been addressed.
3. The decision was again ratified by Cabinet to hold the ceremony to rename the Mount St. John Medical Center on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, beginning at 10:00 and ending at 11:30 on the quad at the entrance to the MSJMC. It will henceforth be known as the Sir Lester Bird MSJMC in honour of the former Prime Minister and National Hero of Antigua and Barbuda. It was agreed that he was the most deserving, based on the persistence and determination to conclude the project despite major opposition to it.