Cabinet seems set to announce the removal of further COVID-19 restrictions that were implemented about two years ago to combat the spread of the virus. Making mask wearing optional, a return to full face-to- face learning in schools, and ending the testing mandate for unvaccinated students and public sector workers are among the announcements that will likely be made following today’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
A communication believed to have been sent by Cabinet Secretary Konata Lee, to permanent secretaries and other managers within the public service stated the policy regarding testing has been discontinued, and that [unvaccinated] employees will no longer be required to test every 14 days.
Additionally, proof of vaccination as a requirement to enter some public buildings has also ended. The electronic correspondence did not address schools, but it is believed the discontinuation of the restrictions will extend to include learning institutions.
Minister of Health and Wellness, Sir Molwyn Joseph, during a press conference yesterday, said there were no decisions to announce. He added, however, that by the end of their meeting today, there will be significant changes to the remaining restrictions.
“We are not here to make announcements; Cabinet makes the decisions. We have the objective though of ensuring that whatever is recommended to the Cabinet, is in the context of the science and the data that we have,” Minister Joseph said.
The gradual removal of the remaining restrictions is in keeping with government’s plan to fully reopen the country to strengthen its economic standing, which was dealt a major blow as a result of the global response to the pandemic.
Recently, the mandate that prevented unvaccinated citizens from returning home was lifted, allowing them to return home under specific conditions. Making mask wearing optional may be the biggest step the government will take in returning the country to a state of normalcy.
If approved, Antigua and Barbuda will be the first English-speaking nation in the Caribbean where mask wearing will no longer be compulsory. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rhonda Sealey-Thomas assured that the recommendations for lifting the restrictions will be carried out in accordance with PAHO/ WHO criteria.
Addressing the possibility that mask wearing will become optional, she stated that as medical experts, their recommendations are made exclusively from a scientific perspective. “Currently, the WHO is recommending that the wearing of face masks can be something that countries can consider lifting, the restriction for the use of face masks outdoors, and that’s something that I’m still deliberating on and reading the science on it, and a recommendation will be made,”
Dr. Sealey-Thomas said. While the recommendations of health experts are important in the country’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Minister Sir Molwyn explained it is the duty of the Cabinet to make decisions in the interest of the country as a whole, referring to the decision to reopen the country’s borders.
“Let me take you back to the 4th of June in 2020, when the recommendation from the technical officers was not to open the country. The Cabinet met, and in balancing everything, public health, the impact of the COVID on the economy, the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda made a decision to open up the economy on June 4th, and from all indications, it was the right decision.
“We don’t expect technical officers to make the decisions of Cabinet; they make the input and then the Cabinet decides, taking into consideration all the factors before it, which are not necessarily the same factors before the technical officers.” — POINTXPRESS