HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Wednesday 29 September 2021

The Cabinet was convened at about 10:15 am and ended its deliberations at about 4:00 pm, all members except one were present, both face-to-face and also by Skype.

I. The Director of Education and the Chief Medical Officer were invited to Cabinet to discuss the policy affecting the opening of schools and to provide advice.

I.i. The Cabinet determined, after consultations, that all Secondary School students eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, or of ages 12 to 18 years, and all secondary school-teachers and ancillary staff who have received at least one dose of any two-dose vaccine, are to return to face-to-face classrooms commencing Monday, 4 October 2021. The opening of the government secondary schools will be phased, as determined by the Ministry of Education.

I.ii. The training of temporary teachers has begun, and will continue until the trainees reach sufficient competency levels, should they be required.   

I.iii. All Primary Schools will close immediately, despite the Regulations which allowed for them to open on the condition that all teachers and staff are vaccinated; an opening date is not yet determined but the decision will be examined again in two weeks. The decision today was based upon the number of unvaccinated people and the number of Covid-19 infected people in the wider population; fearing that those below 12 years-old may come into contact with infected persons and in turn bring the infection into the classroom, compelled the decision. Those below 12 years are not eligible for any of the available vaccines. Teaching by distance learning is to continue for these students, both public and private.

2. The Cabinet has authorized a “Reporting Mechanism” be created that will allow Directors and Permanent Secretaries to identify all those public servants who remain at home after September 30, 2021; the employees are not eligible to receive payment of salaries or wages by remaining at home after the two-week period of paid leave ends on Thursday.

3.i. The CMO surmised that virtually all Covid-19 deaths reported by the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center are likely to be people who were un-vaccinated. The Dashboard does not explicitly identify whether the deceased was or was not vaccinated. Although accompanying press releases point out that the dead person tested positive for Covid, they do not indicate whether the deceased was vaccinated. Every attempt will be made to encourage the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center to include this bit of information on the daily Dashboard. At least one other CARICOM state carries this significant tidbit in its reporting.    

3.ii. The CMO also provided advice to the Cabinet on the restrictions imposed last Wednesday by Cabinet. The decision was made by Cabinet to retain the curfew, 8:00 pm each night until 5:00 am each morning. The restrictions placed on restaurants, allowing take-out only, will continue for two more weeks. The closure of gyms, clubs and bars will continue for at least two more weeks, depending upon a reduction of the number of infected people reported each week; beaches remain restricted, 5:00 am to 5:00 pm daily, excluding Sundays when they close at 12;00.

3.iii. The CMO reported that late presentation of the sick to the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center is responsible for many of the deaths; had the patients presented themselves sooner, the likelihood of saving their lives is greater.

3.iv. The Cabinet took umbrage at the statement by the Leader of the UPP that the deaths at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center appear to be the fault of doctors and other staff there. His unwarranted swipe at the medical personnel at the Medical Center is unwarranted and reflects a willingness to pronounce before enquiring. The Cabinet condemns Mr. Lovell for his mean-spirited attack on the hard-working personnel at the Medical Center.

3.v. The Cabinet advised all patients who feel ill to report earlier to the Hospital so that they can be treated. The Cabinet advises that all adults and 12 to 17 year-olds are to take their vaccinations which are free and do not cost them any money. The Cabinet was advised by the CMO that one additional PCR Machine has been acquired, allowing the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center to process additional covid tests, and to lessen reliance upon CARPHA. The Trinidad based institution has imposed limits on the number of tests which any one Caribbean country can submit within a week.

3.vii. The Cabinet was also informed by the CMO that 10 Medical Doctors who have yet to commence their internship, have been hired to undertake contact tracing. These numbers are still not sufficient since the number of sick and infected people continues to increase almost daily.

4. The Cabinet has set the national (community) immunity at 80,000 fully vaccinated. The number has just gone passed 42,000 fully vaccinated and approximately 8,000 partially vaccinated. Therefore, at least 30,000 additional adults and 12 to 17 year-olds still require vaccination.

5. The Cabinet expresses condolences to the family of Mr. John Fuller, attorney-at-law, who has represented both the ABLP and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda in several matters before the courts, over time.  Mr. Fuller died yesterday afternoon.

6. The Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda will meet on Thursday, October 7, 2021, to continue the agenda which was placed before the House last week but could not be completed.