Hurst Reports On Cabinet Of Wednesday 22 September 2021

Cabinet was convened both face-to-face and virtually; all members, but one, were present. The Cabinet was focused upon the Covid-19 implications for Antigua and Barbuda, and in determining the impact which its recent decisions are having upon slowing the rate of infection in the land.

1. The Cabinet was informed by the Minister of Health that the recently-published Regulations—that provide for all government employees to be vaccinated by September 30, 2021, or to remain at home without pay beginning October 1, 2021—are having the desired impact:

i. On average, more than 1,000 adults and 12-to-17 year-olds are accessing the Pfizer, AstraZenica, and the other vaccines daily since September 20, when they became fully available;

ii. AUA’s contribution to the vaccine effort is much appreciated. The record indicates that 684 persons were vaccinated on Saturday, 18 September 2021, and a small number were asked to return on Saturday, September 25, or Sunday, September 26, when the AUA will again receive those wishing to be vaccinated;

iii. Smaller numbers of infected adults are being hospitalized daily, since the September 20 rollout began, and the number of Active Cases is estimated to have declined, attesting to the wisdom of encouraging and mandating government employees to vaccinate. Precise numbers are not yet available but will be provided in due course;

iv. The resolution published by the ABUT, following a virtual meeting on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, flies in the face of the law and is also fatally flawed. The Government has an obligation to provide a safe environment for children who are compelled to attend school up until age 16 years; that is not the responsibility of the ABUT. The teachers’ union has no locus to determine for children what is safe; the ABUT is a workers’ organization of teachers. All teachers are required to be vaccinated by October 1, 2021, and a majority of more than 800 of the 1,400 teachers employed by the Government are vaccinated.

v. The Government cannot abdicate its responsibility for providing a safe environment for the children who are compelled to attend its schools; the Government is also aware that it could open itself to a lawsuit compelling it to show how that objective is to be implemented, as has happened in several jurisdictions.

vi. Having considered the new COVID-19 policy and measures for the management of the pandemic, published last week Friday, September 17, 2021, the Cabinet agreed that, where persons employed by the government fail to comply with the Public Health Act Regulations—a) to get vaccinated, and b) are not permitted to return to their workplace after October 1, 2021, if not vaccinated—then temporary/substitute employment will be permitted on approval by Cabinet to ensure that critical services to the public continue to be provided.            

vii. All other Regulations promulgated last week by the Gazette, regarding restrictions intended to achieve victory over the Covid-19 pandemic, remain in effect. Curfew hours remain from 8:00 pm each night, to 5:00 am each day; and restrictions on the use of beaches for therapeutic reasons also remain the same. Pleasure craft are similarly prohibited until next Thursday, September 30, 2021, to set sail. A storm may require that the vessels’ owners seek safe harbour.

2.i. The Cabinet announces that it intends to take to Parliament an amendment to the Public Health Act which would make a person liable for a fine (possibly of $5,000) and/or confinement (of possibly 6 months), should that person, having been informed that she/he is covid infected, discharges him/herself without the permission of the medical personnel, rather than await instructions to further the treatment of that infected person

2.ii. The Cabinet was made aware that several workers are abusing the sick-leave provision included in the labour contract under which they are employed; additional scrutiny is to be paid to doctors who enable false claims; if so determined, the false diagnosis will result in severe penalties to the doctors as well, including the loss of licence to practice.

3. The Cabinet decided that all nursing students, whether studying at the State College or the UWI at Five Islands, are to receive a $500 monthly stipend. Every encouragement is being offered to nursing students in order to meet the shortfall in nurses being experienced by Antigua and Barbuda.

4. The Cabinet was informed that an attorney, presumed to be unvaccinated, has filed a writ on behalf of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association challenging the constitutionality of the law mandating all government workers to be vaccinated. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

5. The Cabinet examined the challenge of deteriorating mental-health issues among vulnerable members of the population. The Cabinet agreed that a multi-disciplinary approach to address the same is required and, therefore, will establish such a group consisting of officials from the Ministries of Health, Education. Social Transformation. The object will be to strengthen the framework. It will be chaired by a medical doctor.

6. The Parliament will convene on Thursday, September 23, 2021, at 9:30 am for the purpose of extending the State of Emergency and to adopt the new Regulations that will continue to guide the Covid-19 policy of the administration. Two other bills are likely to be adopted.  

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