HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF Wednesday, SEPTEMBER 15 2021

The Cabinet met both face-to-face and virtually, all members present. The Cabinet’s attention was focused upon Covid-19 and the impact which the disease is having on the nation, the learning institutions—especially the primary and secondary schools—and upon the economy, lives and livelihoods.

1. The Cabinet decided to alter several policies in order to speed the achievement of herd immunity before year’s end. The following now apply on the dates indicated:

Policy On The Management of Covid-19

  • With effect from Monday, 20th September 2021, Cabinet agreed that all unvaccinated government employees including the Public Service, statutory corporations and companies in which the government owns majority shares shall be required to remain at home until proof of vaccination is provided. 
  • All unvaccinated Public Sector Employees, inclusive of employees of Statutory Corporations and companies of which the government holds majority shares, shall be required to remain at home until proof of Covid-19 vaccination;
  • As of Thursday, 1st October 2021, no Public Sector Employees, inclusive of Statutory Corporations and of companies which the government holds majority shares, shall be paid a salary or wage for the period of non-compliance with the current policy;
  • Trade Unions and Employee Associations shall be permitted to conduct educational awareness sessions via virtual means, and, upon request, face-to-face engagements on public properties. All Covid-19 processes shall be strictly observed;
  • Beaches to be closed at 12 noon until 5:00 am daily, commencing 20th September, 2021;

With effect from Thursday, 1st October 2021, the following measures shall take effect:

  • All eligible students, 12 years and upwards, shall be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19;
  • All primary school teachers shall be required to be fully vaccinated before returning to face-to-face classes;
  • All arriving passengers, including returning nationals and residents, are required to have received at least the first dose of a vaccine approved by the appropriate authorities in Antigua and Barbuda; 
  • Informal/public gatherings to be restricted to members of the same household;
  • Bus drivers, conductors and taxi drivers are required to be vaccinated effective 1st October, 2021; failure to comply with the current policy will result in restrictions to operate;
  • All pleasure craft fetes, parties and entertainment events and excursions around the coastal waters and offshore islands are suspended immediately until 29 September 2021.
  • Taxi drivers, vendors and merchants at the ports of entry are required to be vaccinated.

The Appropriate Authority may exempt the following:

  • Persons submitting a medical certificate approved by the Chief Medical Officer or a request approved on religious grounds; unvaccinated medically-exempt workers are required to present a negative COVID test twice monthly to be eligible to reenter work premises. 
  • Employees of the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre and Community Clinics are exempt from this policy for this period;
  • Authorized Remote Workers (Public Sector, Statutory Corporations and companies with majority government ownership) can operate between 20th September and 1st October, 2021.
  •     Effective September 20, only vaccinated taxi operators will be allowed to      operate at the airport and at Heritage quay. Vendors, merchants and store     clerks at Heritage quay and the airport are required to be vaccinated. 
  • Minor children (below 18 years of age) arriving at a port of entry in Antigua and Barbuda;

The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda recognizes the extreme hardship caused by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic along with the pain and anguish of families due to untimely and unnecessary loss of loved-ones. The pandemic has caused tremendous economic dislocations, social disruptions and psychological trauma.

The government acknowledges the enormous commitment and sacrifices made by the nation’s healthcare professionals and, by extension, all workers who lock arms daily in a colossal effort and determination to defeat the Covid-19 virus and help to restore this country to some form of normalcy. Covid-19 represents an existential threat and the government calls on the entire nation, private sector and public sector and all civil society to lend support in this endeavor by adopting polices and promoting policies to arrest the effects of this deadly virus. 

2. Until Cabinet is advised by Health Officials that the Covid-19 situation is “under control”, these policies affecting unvaccinated public workers entering on to Government employment places shall remain in effect. A precise date for the end of these announced policies is therefore not yet determined.  

2.i. The withdrawal of the testing option, previously announced, is determined by both the number of testing kits available and the number of personnel available to undertake the tests of the several hundred unvaccinated government-paid workers. The vaccination centers, on the other hand, can provide the requisite number of jabs of the unvaccinated employees by September 30, 2021.

3. The attempt to print and distribute Covid-19 cards at the Multipurpose Center has proven to be unworkable. Hence, commencing Thursday, 16 September 2021, the collection of Covid-19 Cards shall be by appointment only. Submission of the identification of the potential cardholder, his/her photo, the front and middle of the paper card is to be communicated with the personnel by email and telephone only. The following telephone numbers apply: 788-8299, 780-8461, 736-8299; or, by email: getvaxcard@ab.gov.ag. Walk-ins shall be permitted only by the elderly (65 years and older) who have no access to email.

4. Both the top brass of the Royal Antigua and Barbuda Police Force (RABPF) and the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF) accompanied by their deputies and other officers were invited to Cabinet. The Prime Minister, Chairman of Cabinet, pointed out that in another OECS country, nearly 25% of their police force members are ill, made so by Covid-19 infections. Their absence from duty has apparently caused criminals to increase their activity.

4.i. The Police agreed that the RABPF is moving towards achieving 100% compliance, which by can be achieved by 1st October 2021. The ABDF reported that 100% compliance has been achieved with the exception of the medical exemptions. It was agreed that a date will be set by the RABPF for a mobile unit to complete all vaccinations at their Headquarters. Both uniformed services will become more visible and vigilant as is necessary.

5. Five officials from Global Port Holding and the Ministry of Tourism were invited to Cabinet to address the challenges associated with re-commencing the cruise tourism sector that has essentially been closed for 18 months. There is a schedule of 85 ship-calls between September and December 2021, including the OASIS Class ships utilizing the new berth on the northernmost border of the harbour. 20,000 people in Antigua and Barbuda depend upon the cruise industry, directly and indirectly, the GPH official explained, and confirmed by the Tourism officials.

The Official also explained that safety on board the vessels has been increased. Three measures have been applied:

a. capacity reduced by 40%;

b. air quality has been improved on board by adjusting certain configurations;

c. hand hygiene has been much improved.

Two doctors and four nurses are available on every vessel; exceptional protocols are enforced on board; and, meetings with taxi drivers have been very useful.

6. The Nugent Avenue NTTC, transformed into a mini-hospital and properly renamed, will be blessed by a priest on Thursday, September 16, 2021, and the assigned staff will take up their posts later that day; patients will also follow.

7. CARIFESTA 2021 has been cancelled. The Covid-19 pandemic is the reason for this decision taken by the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda. A resource challenge, triggered by Covid, also impacted the decision.  

8. The Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda will convene next Thursday, 23 September 2021, in order to extend the State of Emergency, and for the elected members to examine the new Covid policies which would have been adopted on the Monday preceding.

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