Caricom seeks help from US, UK in COVID fight

No country in Caricom is close to herd immunity and a recent surge of cases has prompted Caricom to seek assistance from the US and UK on certain areas to deal with the situation.

That was the outcome of an emergency Caricom meeting of leaders yesterday.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne attended the virtual meeting which focused on a regional response to the recent surge in infections, hospitalisations and deaths due to the virus across the Caricom Community.

A Caricom statement on the meeting stated leaders expressed deep concern at the increase with “more than 100,000 new cases and 1400 deaths” (sic) between July 2021 and 12 September 2021.

They received an update on the pandemic from the Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr Joy St John. This noted that since the outbreak in March 2020, the region has seen more than 300,000 confirmed cases with more than 6,700 deaths.

St John stressed that the percentage of deaths was exceedingly high among unvaccinated people with less than one per cent of deaths recorded by people who were vaccinated.

Leaders expressed dismay at the rate of vaccination in the Community and the significant incidence of vaccine hesitancy.

As of 3 September, according to CARPHA, vaccine coverage in the Community ranged from 58.7 per cent in Bermuda to 0.1 per cent in Haiti. Leaders noted that no country was close to herd immunity.

Heads of Government agreed to share excess vaccines, personal protective equipment and test kits. They also agreed to approach the COVAX Facility to grant the Community an exemption, which would allow vaccine doses from the Facility to be reallocated among member states.

Given the critical situation, leaders met with representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom to convey the gravity of the situation, and to make specific requests for assistance.

They requested that the US deliver the next batch of Pfizer vaccines donated to the region earlier than originally planned and asked for field hospitals and the accompanying equipment to help ease the current strain on health facilities in member states.

The request to the United Kingdom centred around the negative impact of traffic-light listing of countries which determines requirements for re-entry to the UK given the importance of that tourism market to the region.

Leaders are also strongly urging people of the Caricom community to get vaccinated, as failure to do so puts the health sector at great risk of being overwhelmed by the surge of cases.

They called particularly on frontline workers – nurses, doctors, security personnel and teachers – to avail themselves of the vaccines given their critical roles.

Leaders warned that the threat to the health, economic, education and security sectors was real, and called on all stakeholders to come together on the issue in the interest of the stability of member states and the Community.

In this context, leaders will consider the harmonisation of travel protocols, including for cruise ships. Leaders agreed to the design of a Community Public Relations Strategy to supplement national campaigns to encourage citizens to vaccinate.

Rowley’s expected to speak about national issues including possibly COVID, at a PNM virtual public meeting Tuesday night.

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