Cabinet convened at about 11:00 a.m. and lasted for about seven hours.
As is the custom of the Gaston A. Browne Administration, experts within their fields were invited to the Cabinet to provide guidance on several issues.
Management of COVID-19
- The Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, the Hon. Sir Molwyn Joseph, provided the Cabinet with an update of the country’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The present epidemiological situation is improving, and the number of recoveries continues to be much higher than the number of new cases of the disease. Additionally, the weekly totals have continued a downward trend, and this augurs well for the country as it is also reflected in a lesser number of people hospitalized with the disease. This in turn means that persons who are seriously ill with COVID-19 also continues to fall. The latest statistics shared with the Cabinet showed that there has been a fifty per cent (50%) decrease in the number of cases. Over the last seven days, there have been 124 new cases, representing a daily average of 17 per day. This is in stark contrast to when the country was recording 63 new cases daily, just a few short weeks ago. It is also noteworthy that of the new infections, only one case was imported. There are presently 289 active cases of COVID-19 in Antigua and Barbuda, and 249 people in isolation. It is likely that within the next seven days the number of people in isolation may drop below 100.
- Sir Molwyn also reported that 21,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are due to arrive in Antigua by Wednesday 3rd November 2021. This represents the second tranche of vaccines that are being donated by the United States of America. These vaccines will be immediately deployed with a strong focus on secondary school students. It is the intention of the Government to have all students who are eligible vaccinated so that schools can return to face-to-face learning.
- In this regard, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, and Director of Education, Mr. Clare Browne, were invited to guide the Cabinet on the reopening of schools for full face-to-face instruction. After robust discussions, the CMO advised that based on the present epidemiological situation in the country that all schools should return to face-to-face instruction from Tuesday 2nd November 2021 and all students who are eligible to be vaccinated are required to do so within fourteen days. It must be emphasized that the safety of staff and students remains the top priority. The Ministry of Education will also continue to engage in education and information sharing about the safety of the vaccines.
- The Cabinet agreed that the Public Health Regulations will be amended to mandate that all private sector employers who employ more than five employees will be required to have all staff vaccinated in order for them to continue working.
- The Information Technology Manager at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre, Mr. Osbert Josiah, was also invited to update the Cabinet on the progress of the country’s vaccination card. Under a programme jointly managed by the Ministries responsible for Health and Information Technology, the country is moving towards a card that has a QR Code that stores the holder’s vaccination information and allows for quick and easy authentication. The Cabinet was treated to a demonstration of the technology. Essentially, the QR Code, when scanned, gives authorized agencies access to a live database with real-time vaccination status. Therefore, when a person receives a booster jab, that information is updated and almost available almost immediately. The country’s vaccine card system has been receiving commendations from all over the world as Antigua and Barbuda is one of the first countries to implement such a system. It will be deployed for use within the next week to two weeks. Cabinet commended the team and agreed that the partnership between the two Ministries is an example of best practices that should be emulated within the wider Public Service.
- A meeting is to take place with bar owners to determine if conditions permit reopening. It was cautioned that the country should not make any hasty decisions where the reopening of bars is concerned. At all times, decisions will be guided by science.
- The Minister of Education reported that Principal of The University of the West Indies, Five Islands Campus (UWI FIC), Professor Densil Williams, expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Gaston Browne for the foresight and vision in approaching Harvard University on the issue of reparations. Already, the relationship is bearing fruit with the launching of a collaboration between The UWI FIC and the Harvard Business School that will give students in Antigua and Barbuda access to one of the most prestigious business programmes in the world. This initiative will have a positive impact on the educational profile of students and the available human resources in the country. It therefore validates the wisdom of the Government in deciding to pursue the dream of having a landed campus of UWI in Antigua and Barbuda. Moreover, the naysayers who poured scorn on PM Browne’s approach to Harvard have rightfully been silenced, it was agreed.
- The YEEP that falls under the Ministry of Social Transformation has been demonstrating its value in improving the lives of persons who would have been forced to either end their secondary education prematurely or did not perform to their full potential while in school. Cabinet appreciated the programme’s pass rate in this year’s CXC examinations. It was agreed that enrolment in the programme is growing at an exponential rate and that the time is right for it to be moved to a larger facility. To this end, the Cabinet agreed that the Public Works Department is to renovate the old Ottos School to accommodate the YEEP Programme, but the programme will remain firmly under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Transformation as one of the Government’s flagship social and empowerment programmes.
- A team from Cricket West Indies (CWI) also provided the Cabinet with an update of its expansion plans in Antigua and Barbuda. CWI is in the process of finalizing plans to construct a high-performance training facility over the next twelve to eighteen months. A total of about US$25 million will be invested in the project and will include a small hotel, training facilities, and a media centre. This will augment CWI’s investment into the economy and is projected to introduce a new niche whereby other international sports teams can be invited to Antigua to train. Moreover, it will see an increase in the number of cricket matches to be played in the country, which is already experiencing a record number of matches for the year. This has resulted in CWI spending about US$3.5 million in the country in the last year alone. Further, the country will host the ICC T20 Americas Qualifiers from 3rd to 15th November 2021. This will result in another $2 million being spent in the economy. It was agreed that the partnership between the government of Antigua and Barbuda and CWI is one that has been and continues to be mutually beneficial. The Cabinet commended CWI on its high rate of vaccination among staff as only three of a staff of 200 remain unvaccinated.
Infrastructural Development and Services
- The Cabinet turned its attention to the question of the country’s infrastructure. It was agreed that while there is much work to be done, the Public Works Department (PWD) ought to be given high commendations for the work it continues to do with the road infrastructure. It was pointed out that the road network has been much improved when one considers the totality of work undertaken thus far. Not only are highways receiving much attention, but within villages the road network is presently being improved. This is in stark contrast to the shambolic performance of the United Progressive Party, even while its present leader was the Minister of Finance.
- The Cabinet also agreed that the Tanner Street gutter is to receive much needed repairs. Manpower at the PWD is to be increased to ensure that this is done as a matter of priority as this drain serves as the main artery to channel overflow from Country Pond to the sea when it rains heavily. It was agreed that it has been an eyesore for much too long.
- The continuing works at Woods Pond have already had a positive impact on the overall aesthetics of the environs, and when complete the area will be transformed into a wellness park. A jogging course forms part of the project, and an outdoor gymnasium and park benches, to be financed by the Medical Benefits Scheme, are to be placed at the site.
- APUA Telecoms continued deployment of Fire-to-the-Home (FTTH) is moving apace and about 50% of the country has been covered. The project is now moving into the south of the island, and this will see areas such as Bendals, Jennings, Bolans, and Jolly Harbour being connected.
- The Ministry of Agriculture is now in possession of 50,000 coconut trees and another 50,000 will be ordered soon. These will be used to replenish trees that were casualties of the Lethal Yellowing disease that decimated palm trees in the country. Cabinet agreed that the coconut water industry is a thriving one and ought to be protected, especially considering the health benefits it provides to the body. Moreover, in a move towards food security, and as part of the Government’s “Zero Hunger Initiative”, it was agreed that more fruit trees are to be propagated for distribution. These include, but are not limited to, breadfruit, banana, avocado, sugar apple, guava, and mangoes.
- The Cabinet also agreed that there is a need for a more coordinated approach to the cultivation of crops in the country. It was observed that farmers are still reporting excess and spoilage of certain crops, while there is a shortage of others. When taken in context of the present global supply chain disruptions, Cabinet advises of the need to become self-sufficient in feeding ourselves. Households are encouraged to engage in backyard farming to supplement food needs.
Renaming of South Street
- Cabinet agreed that South Street is to be renamed as “Oscar Mason Street” in recognition of the contributions of Mr. Mason, who was a cultural giant. He has made a significant impact on the calypso artform, having been a mentor to many of the early calypsonians such as Zemaki, King Obstinate, King Short Shirt, King Swallow, Tennyson, Franco, Bottle, and King Creole to name a few. Mr. Mason was a multi-instrumentalist and transferred that talent to his children and many others in Antigua and Barbuda. His body of work remains unwritten, and Cabinet agreed that Mr. Mason rightly deserves just recognition for his contribution to the nation’s culture.
Monday 1st November 2021
- Monday 1st November 2021 is the nation’s 40th anniversary of political independence and the Ceremonial Parade and announcement of national honours will be held on that day. Beaches will remain open under the protocols previously announced, that is, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. No picnics, food, music, or other large gatherings are permitted. In addition, tours for the fully vaccinated are permitted.