HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Wednesday November 17 2021

Cabinet commenced its weekly meeting with a prayer, as is the custom, and with all members attending, four members joining virtually; the meeting ended more than seven hours later.

1.The Cabinet invited the acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO), the Director of Education and the Director of Pharmaceutical Services to its meeting. The meeting agreed that the global figures within all secondary schools indicate that herd immunity has been achieved and more than 80% of the secondary school student population is now vaccinated. 

1.i. In balancing the benefits against the risk the Cabinet has agreed that face-to- face learning of all Secondary School students, whether vaccinated or not, shall commence in the new school term in January 2022. It was also agreed that the Ministry will conduct sessions with parents of un-vaccinated students, the object being to inform of the necessity to act now and not to delay in getting their children vaccinated. All students who attend classes and are still not vaccinated, come January 2022, will be subject to a COVID-19 test every two weeks. There will be no charges for these tests. 

1.ii. The CMO (Acting) provided data showing that the number of new cases of COVID-19 has declined on a weekly basis to 27 cases per week, in the weeks of November 2021; while in the 37th week of the disease, the number was 437 in that week. On Tuesday there were four new cases and 61 active cases in total, with 3,960 recovered cases, leading to a total of 4,129 infections since the start of the COVID19 Pandemic in Antigua and Barbuda. 

1.iii. The Chairman of Cabinet and the CMO (Ag.) agreed that mandates proved necessary in order to achieve herd immunity in schools, in the private sector and among public employees. As a consequence, the Cabinet agreed that all public sector workers, whether vaccinated or not, are to return to work on December 1st 2021. Those who are still not vaccinated by December 1st 2021 will be subject to a COVID-19 test every two weeks. There will be no charges for these tests. 

1.iv. Banks and other financial institutions that have achieved community immunity of 80% will be permitted to have testing of their un-vaccinated employees, beginning December 1st 2021. 

1.v. Private sector entities are to issue their own exemption certificates on the grounds of religion and or medical reasons. The government sector will continue to require exemptions from acceptable medical practitioners and reputable religious institutions following submission of the appropriate application. 

1.vi. Visitors to Antigua and Barbuda and nationals who are returning to enjoy their country and who wish to visit bars, clubs, dine-in restaurants and places of entertainment are to present their vaccination certificates that they presented on arrival in the country for them to be allowed entry. 

1.vii. The Minister of Information, whose portfolio includes the issuance of the new COVID-19 vaccine cards, reported that more than 16,000 cards have been distributed; 2,500 cards are not yet distributed and remain in the production team’s possession

1.ix. Competitive sports shall resume from Monday November 22, using the previously agreed-upon protocols.  

1.x. The state of emergency will end before December 27th 2021.

1.xi. The restrictions imposed on people travelling from high COVID infected countries such as the Dominican Republic, Brazil, India, and South Africa will also be lifted on January 1st 2022. 

2. The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda affirmed the decisions made by the Chairman of Cabinet in his negotiations with the Leeward Island Airline Pilots Association (LIAPA). The offer then was to pay 50% of severance, a non-recourse offer. The Chairman also offered to purchase all the assets of LIAT (1974 Ltd) by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, estimated to value about $10 million. This amount could be paid before Christmas for distribution to all the severed employees of LIAT throughout the system. However, it must form a part of the entire agreement with LIAPA and all unions, and the sum is to be deducted from all payments to be made in the proposed settlement. That settlement will include 1/3 cash, 1/3 bonds, and 1/3 lands. All LIAT Unions must agree to the 50% severance for the offer to take effect. 

3. The Cabinet commended Sir Molwyn for his work during COP26, including his attempt to make acceptable the Multi-Dimensional Vulnerability Index acceptable to all, especially the funding nations. The Minister reported that support was forthcoming from the European Union. 

3.i. On Loss and Damage, the negotiations moved from a specific climate event to the Loss and Damage suffered over a period of time. The World Bank’s catastrophic recovery insurance fund (CRIF), addresses specific climate extreme events and provides financial resources to the member. Antigua and Barbuda will establish a Loss and Damage Trust. Funds assigned to this Trust will be administered by the UNDP.  It was agreed that COP26 allowed for leadership of Antigua and Barbuda’s delegation to be fully expressed. Ambassador Diane Black-Layne will report to Cabinet next Wednesday since she was pivotal in the negotiations. 

4. Plans for V.C Bird Day on December 9th 2021, are being conceptualized in the Ministry of Cultural Industries. A budget is being developed that will reflect the extent of the celebratory events planned for the days leading up to and including December 9th. 

4.i. Since Christmas falls on a Saturday and Boxing Day on a Sunday in 2021, the announcements published in the Gazette of November 17th 2019 holds: Monday and Tuesday, 27th and 28th December 2021, are Public Holidays. 

5. The Chairman of Cabinet reported that $10 million dollars have been paid over to meet all Pension payments that are due for the months of September and October. Those persons who do have a second pension may continue to experience temporary shortfalls from time to time in payments until the full recovery of the Scheme as the economy continues to recover. However, single pensioners are to be kept up-to-date. 

6. The Minister of Agriculture requested and was voted $100,000 for the purchase of fruit tree seedlings that are to be developed by the Green Castle and Christian Valley agricultural stations. The seedlings are to be distributed to homeowners and others in order to plant 100,000 trees a year to combat drought and global warming. 

7. The Minister responsible for Technology informed Cabinet that mobile number portability is now closer to reality, and that implementation will start early in the new year. He also informed that the Barbuda Land Registry will be ready early in the New Year; it will be digitized. 

8. The elected representative for St. John’s Rural North requested a schedule for the repairs of roads and bridges within the communities. He was assured by the Minister of Works that repair of roads in the Rural North constituency will begin early in 2022. 

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