HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Wednesday July 28 2021

The Cabinet pf Antigua and Barbuda met today from about 10:30 am until 5:30, all members attending except two who are away on official government business. Three members were present virtually.

1. The Covid-19 Pandemic—and its impact on Antigua and Barbuda—remains the greatest challenge posed to all civilizations globally, and especially to small island countries highly dependent upon tourism.

1.i. The Cabinet determined that beaches will remain open on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, August 2 and 3, 2021, though they are public holidays and the regulations require the beaches to remain closed on public holidays. However, the Cabinet is certain that the population will exhibit full adherence to the rules which require that there be: a) no music, food, picnicking, and cavorting on the beaches during this two-day holiday period; and, that b) all adults will conform to the protocols that are well-known; they must stick to social distancing, sanitizing of hands, and the wearing of face masks on beaches (except when they enter the water for swimming and recreation).

1.ii. The Cabinet has received assurances that 66,000 doses of mixed American-produced vaccines will arrive Antigua’s shores in a few weeks. Among the batches will be the Pfizer vaccine. It is the intention of the Cabinet to ensure that as many students, age 12 and older in 4th and 5th Forms, receive the vaccine; the new Delta strain of Covid-19 is capable of infecting children. In order to create a safe environment in school, and to reduce the disruptions which arise whenever a Covid-19 case is detected in a student within his/her classroom, as many twelve to 17-year-old youth will be vaccinated. The precise start date cannot be determined until the vaccine arrival dates are known, and efficient systems worked out to enable vaccinations at school plants.

1.iv. The Cabinet extended an invitation to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to engage in consultations, following the TUC’s public demand for the same; it was agreed that the TUC and the AT&LU would have commenced that meeting with Cabinet at 2:00 pm. The Cabinet restricted the number of TUC Representatives to six; and, further, that all members attending be fully vaccinated. The TUC, the Cabinet subsequently learned, is made-up of 11 Affiliates all expected to be present. The Cabinet and the TUC could not quite agree before 2:00 pm. Hence, the consultations have been delayed until after the Carnival holidays when the Executive Body will meet with the TUC Representatives.

1.v. The Cabinet repeats its sensible policy to have an additional <30,000 residents and nationals vaccinated quickly in order to achieve “herd immunity” in Antigua and Barbuda. A number of measures have been announced in order to induce the un-vaccinated population to move forward to receive their life-saving jabs. The Cabinet is certain that the “vaccine hesitancy” being experienced by all countries can be overcome by reducing the options which the un-vaccinated can choose. In New York City, in France, in several states within the USA, and since July 7, 2021, in Antigua and Barbuda, the unvaccinated frontline workers (to include doctors, nurses, Emergency Medical Technicians, hospital staff, the police, the military, the hotel workers, taxi drivers, shop-owners and clerks, vendors, restaurant workers, tour bus operators, and others likely to encounter tourists) are being pressed to take the vaccines in order to preserve jobs, make our destination safer, and to keep the majority free from the Covid19 virus and its several variants. The Delta variant is proving to be the most dangerous and transmissible Covid virus, striking children below age 18 years. Vaccination now is the best choice for preventing hospitalization and even death, the Cabinet has repeated.

2. The Cabinet repeated its congratulations and well-wishes to the Prime Minister-elect of St. Lucia, the Honourable Mr. Phillip Jean Pierre, following the St. Lucia Labour Party’s overwhelming victory at the polls on Monday past. Prime Minister Browne has also expressed to outgoing P.M. Chastanet, his regrets. An invitation has been extended to Prime Minister Gaston Browne to attend the inauguration ceremonies next week. It is P.M. Gaston Browne’s intent to accept the invitation.

3. The Principal of the UWI Five Islands Campus, Professor Densil Williams, accompanied by two UWI officials, was invited to Cabinet to provide a report on the growth and societal impact which UWI Five Islands is having on Antigua and Barbuda and the other countries of the O.E.C.S. The number of students enrolled at the Camus continues to grow, though the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed the rate of increase. Yet, the plans for the future will put UWI Five Islands on the cutting edge, delivering relevant education and learning that will benefit the under-served Eastern Caribbean islands.

3.i. Despite its focus upon the future, the UWI Five Islands will celebrate Dr. Ruby Lake-Richards, one of two doctors from Antigua and Barbuda who graduated from UWI following enrollment of its very first cohort of students in its Medical Doctor degree program, in 1948. Dr. Lake-Richards is 99 years old at this time, and resides in Canada where she has been practicing medicine up until 4 years ago, at age 95 years. The celebration will be in the form of a convocation on Saturday, July 31, 2021, at the Five Islands Campus, when Dr. Lake-Richards will join by Zoom. She is fully coherent and healthy. (The other student selected in 1948 is Dr. Donald Christian.)

3.ii. The Principal of UWI Five Islands pointed to key priorities beginning 2021 and extending one decade outward to 2031. Despite UWI’s high ranking among all universities worldwide (top 4%), within the Latin America and Caribbean region (top 1%), and of Universities 50 to 100 years operational (top 1%), the UWI has not been able to reach as many students from the OECS sub-region as it should. Only 2 of 10 high school graduates within Antigua and Barbuda and the OECS ever proceed to tertiary education; the UWI goal is to move that to 6 of 10 graduates within the decade to come. In the developed countries, 700 of every 1,000 students enter into tertiary learning institutions. An intelligent and trained population is the best-known method, the Principal remarked, for moving countries forward in their development. He congratulated the administration for pushing forward to achieve a UWI Fourth Landed Campus. Collaboration with several universities has already intensified the drive towards excellence.

3.iii. The Prime Minister expressed his interest in creating nurses for export to developed countries that are in dire need, and where incomes exceed what is affordable to governments in our sub-region. An International Nursing Program is one of the objectives which the UWI Five Islands is destined to fulfil, the Cabinet asserted. The law now limits the number of nurses to be trained annually to 20. An amendment to the law will be forthcoming shortly, and no limitations will be placed on the number. Discussions have commenced with Howard University in Washington D.C., USA, when the President of that outstanding university visited Antigua last week and held talks with the Prime Minister. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, has already established collaboration with Howard University in artificial intelligence programs.

4. The Cabinet called on the Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Terri Ann Joseph, to participate in the Cabinet’s decision to allow 40 students returning from Cuba to be allowed entry and to place the 40 in their parents’ homes rather than a quarantine center. The students received the full dose of the Cuban vaccine Sobrenna–the vaccine against Covid-19 that is available to them–and have therefore fulfilled one of the requirements set down for entry. The students may nevertheless be restricted from free movement within the population until it is determined that they are free of the contagious virus.

5. The management team from APUA was also summoned to Cabinet to provide a report on the difficulty which APUA is experiencing with signal interference in the spectrum provided by negotiation, with another carrier. The Minister responsible for Technology, Minister Melford Nicholas, has been directed by the Cabinet to assist APUA INET to overcome this challenge.

5.i. The APUA Water Manager also indicated that 7 million gallons of reverse osmosis water is produced daily. That compares to 4.5 million gallons produced in June 2014, showing a significant increase of more than 75% in water production over 7 years. Three additional R/O plants are scheduled to begin operation in 2022, taking water production past 11 million gallons daily. The APUA has begun to replace broken cast iron pipes that cause significant water losses; although the City of St. John’s has many of the older pipes that cause delivery of water to be challenging on some days, the massive disruptions to commerce and traffic that will occur when those pipes are being replaced, have caused the APUA to plan a very strategic approach to repairing the roads simultaneously with planting the new polyurethane replacements, sewerage pipes, and underground electricity cables all at the same time.

6. The Minister of Tourism has distributed an evolving list for cruise-ship arrivals during the Summer and seasonal tourism months. Antigua’s tourism is bouncing back, the Minister assured his colleagues.

7. Parliament will convene on Thursday, August 12, 2021, where several amendments to existing laws will be considered.

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