The Cabinet met virtually, for the third time since the New Year began. All Ministers were present.
1. The Covid-19 pandemic that has challenged economies around the world, remained a primary item of discussion and decision-making for the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda. The proposal to allow unvaccinated visitors to enter into Antigua and Barbuda with the benefit of a rapid antigen or PCR Test, was placed on hold until more data can be gathered. The progression of the Omicron variant is being evaluated. The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted that the restrictions inhibit travel and make it more costly to travel, but does not make travel any less risky. The Cabinet will revisit the subject next week when it convenes. All Covid-19 protocols remain in place.
2. The Cabinet addressed the item of “sick leave” taken by Covid-19 infected workers who are compelled to quarantine or to remain isolated for periods of 10 to 14 calendar days, or even longer when they have fallen gravely ill or hospitalized. The Minister of Labour informed that the challenge to find a reasonable methodology is global, just as is the pandemic itself. Consequently, the recommendations of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Caribbean Congress of Labour will be examined. There must also be consultations with the national unions and employers to reach a reasonable settlement of the issues that will likely be taken to Parliament.
3. The Cabinet invited several Port Authority Officials to share the newest plans for River Dock on Barbuda, since international cargo vessels will be invited to discharge their containers directly on to Barbuda’s shores rather than discharging the freight in Antigua for onward shipment to Barbuda. The Development Control Authority, the Ministry of the Environment, the Barbuda Council and other agencies will all be given the opportunity to examine the proposal and to provide their lawful input. The cost of the dock is estimated at US$4.7 million dollars divided equally between material and labour. Following approvals, work will begin shortly thereafter; the dock will be required to meet international ISPS (International Shipping Port Standards) which will have to be verified. Work continues on the airport and runway, making Barbuda’s economy and prospects for the future even greater. The PLH project already employs more than 500 workers, with more expected.
4. The dredging and enlargement of the deepwater cruise tourism channel and turning basin continue, in order to enable the OASIS Class ships to enter and to occupy the completed Fifth Berth in St. John’s Harbour. Five cruise ships have been a regular sight at the Harbour since the vessels returned to Antigua beginning October 2021. The sector is expected to continue to grow as confidence in the destination also strengthens. The Tourosm Minister informed of the growth in air arrivals also, and assured the Cabinet that the marketing of the destination has been paying dividends.
5. A team from the APUA, including the General Manager and the Water Division Manager, addressed the Cabinet on timelines, supplies arrangements, payments and delivery schedules for reverse osmosis plants and the new polyurethane pipes that are to replace old cast iron pipes that leak. As the five-year drought continues, more investments are made in reverse osmosis plants. With an unending supply of seawater, more than 10 million gallons of potable water will be produced by APUA daily by September 2022. The new pipes are purchased out of Europe, the Cabinet was told, and cost far less than when purchased in the USA. Bottlenecks in shipping have delayed some deliveries. When the popes begin to arrive, streets in Point, Camacho Avenue, South Street and all of Montrula will be inconvenienced as the road surfaces will be destroyed to get to the buried, leaky pipes and/or to lay new pipes altogether in the case of Montrula. More than 20% of precious potable water is lost through leaking pipes. The challenge of providing water to homes on higher elevations is being addressed. Pumps are being installed strategically to ensure that water reaches the higher levels. The addition of millions of gallons to production will make this objective more achievable.
6. The Ministers of Public Safety and of Works provided many photos of the completed work undertaken at Her Majesty’s Prison to provide new blocks of cells for improved living spaces for detainees. The international media, the national media and other organizations will be invited to view the improvements and to make their own assessments. Claims about asbestos have been dismissed as anti-government propaganda.
7. The Parliament will convene next week Thursday, February 3, 2022, the Parliament will convene for the Budget Speech. One bill to be laid on the table will allow for an amnesty to be granted to those who have allowed their lawful status to lapse, and who have gaps in their lawful status.