The Cabinet, led by the Honourable Gaston Browne,convened its weekly meeting, held both virtually and face-to-face—all members present.
The Cabinet members journeyed to the home of Sir Lester Bird, former Prime Minister and National Hero,for a joint visit, to wish him well; the members plan to return with regularity when future visits can be arranged.
1. The primary issue which occupied the Cabinet’s attention is the Covid-19 pandemic, its impact on economic activity, and the slowing uptake of the vaccination required to combat its negative health consequences.
1. I. While congratulating all those who have been playing important roles in bringing Antigua and Barbuda to zero on new Covid-19 cases, over the past three weeks of reporting, the Cabinet was quick to point out that an insufficient number of vaccinated adults still challenge the administration’s vaccine program. “Vaccine hesitancy” is a phenomenon being experienced globally; in some places, the inadequacy of supply of vaccines has prevented many countries from reaching broad swaths of their populations. That is not the case in Antigua and Barbuda where vaccines are readily available but the un-vaccinated have not been taking the multiple daily opportunities to safeguard themselves from sickness and even death. Cabinet continues to encourage all un-vaccinated adults to take the vaccine, especially as tourism resumes and many workers return to jobs that had disappeared since March 2020, when the cruise ships discontinued their visits, and very few flights entered Antigua.
1. ii. The announcements by both the airlines and the cruise ship operators foretell of a bumper season for tourism. A part of the reason for the expected success has been the placement of Antigua and Barbuda on the “green list” which the British Government utilizes to guide its citizens to safe destinations; and for the Category 1 status accorded Antigua and Barbuda, which the U.S. Government utilizes to determine the safest places to which Americans can travel during these times. A pent-up demand for travel has fueled high levels of bookings for hotel rooms that have been recently triggered, even in the traditionally low-demand summer months. British Airways has already announced 9 flights weekly over the coming period, and American Airlines has also announced as many as four flights per day from multiple gateways in the U.S.A. Other airlines have shown a similar kind of interest in bringing passengers to Antigua.
1. iii. The Cabinet insists that those government officials and private sector personnel who will be on the frontline to meet, greet and have contact with the arriving passengers, whether by sea or air, shall be vaccinated in order to avoid spread to co-workers, their family members and others in their communities upon return to their living spaces after work. Those who choose not to be vaccinated will be required to take a Covid-19 test at their own expenseat least twice per month. The Cabinet points to the evolving unwelcome situation in the British Virgin Islands where the Covid-19 disease has caused a lockdown and where contact-tracing has been abandoned because so many people there have contracted the disease, that it is not necessary to find the origin of the variant virus. The Cabinet will continue to rely upon rational persuasion, inducements, and no mandatory sanctions in order to encourage all workers, who are likely to have direct or indirect contact with visitors, to take the vaccine.
1. iv. The Cabinet agreed that all persons entering Antigua and Barbuda who have not been fully vaccinated will be required, upon arrival, at their expense, to proceed to bio-secure places such as hotels, air BNBs and guest houses that have been certified by the Central Board of Health. The Cabinet discourages travel away from Antigua by residents and nationals who have not taken the vaccine–which is free. Upon return, they will be required to pay the hotels and other places where they will be compelled to stay; the Government will no longer be operating a quarantine center at the Jolly Beach after those who are there complete their quarantine. The hotel is to be put back into regular service in order to receive paying guests, discontinuing the practice of utilizing their rooms for housing un-vaccinated persons who are required to quarantine. This new policy takes effect almost immediately, in order to allow the hotel to begin sprucing up its property for the receipt of visiting guests. The Government will rely principally on rooms at the former U.S. Base to accommodate quarantined passengers.
1. v. The Promoters of Fetes and other mass events were invited to Cabinet alongside the Chief Medical Officer and the doctor responsible for the operation of the Laboratory at the Sir Lester Bird Mount St. John Medical Center, the Police Commissioner, his Deputies and other top brass, to assist the Cabinet in forging a rational policy governing authorized events and other large gatherings that are not authorized. Following intense discussions, it was agreed that no authorized event may exceed 300 people although the authorized event of this coming Sunday, to be held at the Coolidge Cricket Grounds, was initially capped at 250 paying guests; the organizers and security will number about 50 people, thereby allowing a maximum of 300.
1. vi. The Minister of Health reported that the second 1,000 doses of the SputnikV is arriving Antigua next week; that will allow the commencement of the use of the SputnikV as another in the arsenal of vaccines that can be used to inoculate residents and nationals of Antigua and Barbuda. The Chinese Sinopharm and the Oxford Astrazenica are the other two vaccines that are now available. Virtually all the supplies and the authorizations for use have been secured, allowing the Ministry to devise a use-policy that is intelligence-driven.
2. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) Governor and the Bank’s Head of the Risk Assessment Department held an hour-long Zoom meeting with the Cabinet, in order to introduce the D-Cash system that the ECCB is introducing in its eight members’ territories. The Governor made it clear that it is not a Crypto currency. It will utilize block and chain technology to record immutable uses of the card by those who will choose to use it. There are current limitations on the amounts that can be placed on the card, and the value does not change until used. No interest is paid on balances, but the convenience of use without having to carry large quantities of cash, whether by consumers or merchants, will make the D-Cash ECCB card very attractive. Many questions were posed by members of Cabinet, all of which were answered by the Governor or his Risk Assessment Manager, giving the clear impression that the introduction of the card has been clearly thought-out. A date for its launch in Antigua will shortly be announced.
3. It was reported to Cabinet, while in session, that Mehul Choksi was returned from Dominica. The extradition case brought against him and the case of his loss of Antigua and Barbuda citizenship will continue in Antigua. The Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda continues to investigate Choksi’s claim of kidnapping.
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@ Cabinet 1. iii. Unfortunately, we will end up in the same situation as BVI if our Cabinet does not change its course. We already know how to reduce COVID infection but BVI, like Seychelles and some other countries, rushed ahead and lifted restrictions and now they are paying the price.
We need to stop the nonsense about vaccinated and unvaccinated and really deal with what works. Right now, as mentioned in the notes, we can enjoy Level 1 rating from CDC and greenlist from the UK. But we know that both vaccinated and unvaccinated can catch, spread, become hospitalize or even die from COVID. So when we make decisions to allow the vaccinated to walk right through the airport and then then bring and spread the virus, we will not be able to enjoy those good ratings soon.
But the sad part of it, we will still blame the unvaccinated who must be tested before coming, tested after arriving and must do full quarantine. Such a pity.
My dear Cabinet Ministers, the only problem that exist this far is “treating persons as if they are damn and some what uneducated.”
We have the internet and we learn more from it than anywhere else, thus we have learnt that covid is spread by both vaccinated and unvaccinated- so why is it that you guy’s, make it fit to blame the unvaccinated for the spread .
Have you seen America, they pushing for vaccination but they are not forcing anyone by fear or restriction, yet they have opened their economy and still have protocols in place.
What Cabinet should focus on is getting persons back to work and providing means in which everyone can feed their families, this blame this or that or whom is so (Lester bird time) old….
People are suffering, the economy and curfew needs to be opened up, yet while you feed your kids and provide jobs for your families to survive…all you can focus on is vaccine-give me a break…feed your people so they can think more clearly hence take the vaccine without even lifting a finger.
We dont need fete’s, we dont need larger gatherings, what we need is due diligence and JOB’S..nothing more and nothing less.
You should remember your the representative of the people, you are not doctors or scientists, nor will you ever be.
Telling Doctors to stay in their lane, and keeping the economy hostage is and will forever be less of an answer.
We are so ahead in our century, these are not the 1900’s …FEED YOUR PEOPLE, OPEN UP THE ECONOMY AND CREAT JOBS
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