Minister of Health to lead dialogue involving key groups

Government is going back to the drawing board over the implementation of the COVID-19 safe zones amid growing opposition from critical stakeholder groups.

Minister of Health and Wellness Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic on Tuesday admitted that “some things have not gone right” with the execution of the critical policy.

To remedy the situation, he has promised further consultation with doctors, nurses and trade union leaders, followed by a full report to the country at the end of the discussion.

“It is obvious that some things have not gone right in relation to the roll-out of the safe zones and there are some issues being raised by various entities, the BAMP (Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners) for example, and some of the issues are legitimate,” Bostic acknowledged.

“My intent, along with the team at the ministry, is to listen to what the stakeholders have to say. We will dialogue and I will come to the press before the week is out to be able to address this matter fully with all of the relevant information,” the health minister promised.

The latest COVID-19 Directive requires vaccinated employees at all healthcare institutions including nursing homes, private hospitals, senior citizens’ homes, dental offices, doctors’ offices, testing sites, quarantine facilities, and isolation facilities to be COVID-19 tested at least once every 42 days. Unvaccinated employees on the other hand must be tested once weekly or as often as the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) determines.

Hours after the grand launch of the safe zones, however, doctors were complaining of mass cancellations from clients because of a section in the statutory instrument implying that unvaccinated people could not transact business in the designated areas.

There were also reports of persons being turned away from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital because they did not meet the stipulations in the directive. Bostic however said he would be “very surprised” if such suggestions were true, saying that the directive in question clearly states that no action should be taken within the first two weeks.

During a meeting with senior public health officials on Monday evening, doctors are said to have voiced numerous concerns. Given the seriousness of those issues, Bostic has vowed to personally hear them in talks that started on Tuesday evening at 4 p.m.

Officials from the trade union movement and other representative organisations will also be heard by the health minister.

On Monday, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) complained that the COVID-19 Safe Zones would “adversely impact” their members in the healthcare sector.

Acting General Secretary Richard Greene declared that the measures represented a significant change to the terms and conditions of employment, and at the very least, ought to have involved formal consultations with the union.

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