CABINET NOTES of October 13, 2021

HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Wednesday 13 October 2021

The Cabinet met both virtually and face-to-face, one member being absent. The meeting commenced at 10:30 am with prayers and ended its work at approximately 6:00 pm.

The Chairman called upon the Minister of Health to report on the latest finding regarding Covid-19 in Antigua and Barbuda and to inform the Cabinet if any restrictions can be removed, based on his findings. There have been two consecutive days of decline in the number of new cases of Covid patients, and there have not been any Covid-19 deaths over the same period. The number of adults and 12-to-17 year-olds who have taken the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZenica vaccine, among other vaccines, over the past week since Cabinet last convened, serve as an indication of the success of the mandatory vaccine policy.

More than 85% of all teachers have been vaccinated; and, more than 5,000 of the eligible 8,000 12-to-17 year-olds have also been vaccinated. The latest dashboard indicates that approximately 55,000 resident-adults and students-45,000 have received two doses of the two-dose jabs; and, 10,000 have received a single dose of the two-dose jabs-are vaccinated. The aim is to reach 80,000; hence, yet another 25,000 eligible residents and students are to step forward and take the vaccines.

2.i. The Chief Medical Officer was later invited to the Cabinet meeting along with the Director and Deputy Director of Education. It was reported that:

2,446 Pfizer vaccines are in stock and that approximately 5,000 vaccinated people require a second jab of the Pfizer vaccine;

58,000 Pfizer doses were promised by the USA; 17,600 were delivered thus far, and a second tranche of 17,000 doses will be delivered within the next two weeks or by the end of October 2021 from that source;

1,000 doses are being loaned by an OECS neighbour and will be delivered on Thursday, October 14.

20,000 doses of AstraZenica are scheduled to arrive Antigua from the PAHO in early November; however, 3,000 doses are on hand, and another OECS neighbour is returning 5,000 borrowed doses shortly.

37,000 doses of the single dose Johnson & Johnson are in stock, as are nearly 19,000 doses of Sinopharm, and about 1,000 doses of SputnikV; all are approved by the Pharmaceutical Council for use, eliminating any excuse by adults not to be vaccinated immediately. “The best vaccine is the available vaccine,” the PAHO has repeatedly said, the Cabinet was reminded

2.ii. The Director of Education and the Deputy proposed, on the basis of their analysis of the current vaccination status of teachers and students, that 4th and 5th Form students ought to be allowed to return to face-to-face learning. Following an intense debate on the impact which might result, the Cabinet agreed to the return of 4th and 5th Form students to their classrooms. The requisite number of teachers with the necessary skills would be assigned by the management team at the Ministry of Education.

2.iii. Based on the vulnerability of primary school students, and based on other data regarding the vaccination of their teachers, Primary School shall remain a distance-learning experience.

2.iv. Access to the Internet has been a challenge for some families, even when the devices are available to the students. The Cabinet has vowed to fix this inadequacy.

2.v. The President and General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (ABUT) were invited to Cabinet. It was affirmed that 85% of teachers have been vaccinated in the public schools, and that 100% vaccination has been achieved in many private schools. At the College level, 83% of teachers have been vaccinated. Special attention is to be paid to physically challenged students who require face-to-face instructions. The Adele School is expected to continue receiving its full student body, and 100% of its teachers are reportedly vaccinated. The Cabinet was presented with a list of required teaching staff, numbering 109, to meet the shortfall experienced by the absence of those teachers who have not taken the vaccines; the Cabinet authorized the three-month hiring of those 109 substitute teachers.

2.vii. The issue of exemptions was addressed. 1,287 tertiary level students, 18 years and older, can take one of the available vaccines; hence, no exemption will be granted to any adult based on the un-availability of any specific vaccine.

Religious exemptions are being granted to members of the Rastafarian religious sects; however, the Rastafarians are being encouraged to take the vaccine rather than place themselves and their families at risk of contraction of the debilitating Covid-19 sickness, hospitalization and possibly death.

For those physicians who seek to provide medical exemptions on flimsy and un-substantiated grounds, the Cabinet reminds that fines and the possible loss of the license to practice medicine are looming likelihoods.

Bar owners and Club owners are to be invited to a zoom meeting with a sub-committee of Cabinet next week, to discuss the terms of their re-opening.

The October 15, 2021, opening up of the economy is affirmed. Especially important is the opening of restaurants, allowing dining-in services, commencing Friday. All patrons entering and all staff are to be fully vaccinated. There is a hefty fine for those individuals who are un-vaccinated but seek to be served within a restaurant; a fine is also to be levied on the restaurant for allowing the un-vaccinated to be seated. A hotline for reporting un-vaccinated people entering bars, clubs and restaurants is to be established; eight additional CBH Inspectors, armed with printed tickets, will be on the look-out for those who may attempt to break the law. Vigilance by the Police is also promised.

The Cabinet invited to its meeting Miss Nadine Jean-Pierre, the valedictorian of the 2021 graduating class of the UWI Fourth Landed Campus. The triumph and persistence of this extremely intelligent 22 year-old student from very lowly circumstances won her great applause. She graduated with First Class Honours despite trying circumstances, including the absence of electricity at her mother’s home, causing her to move to her Aunt’s home, in order to access the distance learning imposed by the Covid-19 challenges. Her parents are from another OECS state and work at low-paying jobs; the student was born in Antigua and attended public primary and secondary schools in Golden Grove and Jennings, before her acceptance to the Antigua State College and to the UWI Fourth Landed Campus. The student is herself employed by Special Security Services, working at night in order to allow her attendance at class in the daytime (prior to Covid). She intends to pursue her accounting license before going on to complete a Master’s Degree. She acknowledged receiving the Prime Minister’s Scholarship and other incentives that allowed her to complete her Bachelor’s Degree. The Cabinet asked her what could be done to further her achievements, and she is to meet with Minister Molwyn Joseph in a few days to outline her requirements, to be approved by the Cabinet. She resides in the St. Mary’s North Constituency.

The availability of the UWI Fourth Landed Campus cannot be under-estimated, it was agreed, defying those who failed to measure the miracle of accessible tertiary education to the masses. The student body continues to grow each year, despite Covid.

The Cabinet applauded Dr. George Mansoor for the UWI Honorary Doctorate award conferred upon him by the UWI Five Islands, and has applauded him for excellence in his practice of medicine, saving lives and making the sick whole. He is an outstanding citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, it was agreed.

The Cabinet also applauded Sir Anderson Roberts for the UWI Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree awarded during the same graduation ceremony for his excellence as a cricketer/sportsman. The standard of excellence which he set is greatly admired by all in the cricketing world.

The Cabinet invited Mrs. Kimberly Percival, the first place winner of an International Body Building Global Competition, held in Spain several weeks ago. Her husband, Mr. Bernard Percival Jr. was invited to the Cabinet meeting also, to speak about his own expertise and his wife’s success. The Minister of Sports noted that the clinching of the first-place win in the international competition has placed Antigua and Barbuda in a place of high repute, and has made Kimberly Percival’s face recognizable in the important circles of fitness and health globally. She has been interviewed by television and magazines with global audiences, and is extremely articulate. The Minister of Tourism agreed that Kimberly Percival would be an asset to the global promotion program of Antigua and Barbuda, and it was proposed that she be conferred the title of Ambassador-at-Large and provided with a diplomatic passport. It was agreed.

It was agreed that the Parliamentary sitting, scheduled for Thursday, October 14, 2021, be postponed until Tuesday, October 19, 2021. This would allow members of Parliament to attend the funeral of John Fuller, scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

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