Antigua and Barbuda has announced that from today, 20 Sept., all unvaccinated government employees are required to remain at home, and will not be paid from 1 Oct. unless they can prove they have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
The government has also mandated that only teachers and eligible students who have been vaccinated can return for face-to-face classes in schools.
On Saturday, 18 Sept., the twin-island southern Caribbean nation, with a population of 97,000, reported 107 new cases of COVID. It currently has 967 active cases. So far this month, 13 COVID-related deaths have been reported on the islands, which has seen a total of 55 deaths from the virus.
According to government statistics, 37.6% of its population is fully vaccinated.
In a statement issued last week, the Office of the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda confirmed that the islands’ Cabinet had agreed that all unvaccinated government workers, including those in the public service, statutory corporations and companies in which the government owns majority shares, are required to remain at home from today until proof of vaccination is provided.
Salaries and wages of unvaccinated government employees will cease from 1 Oct. until they comply with vaccination requirements.
Exemptions on being vaccinated are being made for employees at the islands’ main hospital, the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre, and community health clinics due to the “overwhelming epidemiological situation at this time”.
The Antigua Observer reported that Information Minister Melford Nicholas said the exemption for healthcare workers at the hospital and clinics is meant to ensure the medical facilities are properly staffed to handle the current outbreak.
The government is also exempting people who submit a medical certificate approved by the chief medical officer or Medical Board or a request approved on religious grounds.
In addition, the government announced that all officers and support staff of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda and the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force must be vaccinated, effective 1 Oct.
Caregivers and support staff at elderly care facilities are also required to be fully vaccinated, under the new government regulations.
Previously, public sector workers could choose between getting vaccinated and getting tested twice monthly, but with the number of infections and deaths reaching a record high, as well as a lack of testing kits and professionals to administer them, the government has made major changes to its COVID-19 policies, according to the Observer.
The newspaper reported Prime Minister Gaston Browne as saying, “These mandates are designed to protect the entire population… I believe that, on the basis that these mandates are respected, Antigua and Barbuda will be well on its way to achieve herd immunity before the end of the year,” he said.
He said he had set a deadline of 31 Dec. to achieve that feat, but “The mandates will not stop at what we agreed to [in Cabinet], because if we do not achieve herd immunity in the next few months, then additional mandates will be introduced.”
The newspaper reported that, following the government’s announcement last week, more than 700 people flocked to a vaccination clinic at the American University of Antigua on Saturday to get inoculated, the only clinic that was open that day.
Other measures introduced by the government include a stipulation that 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 are restricted to members of the same household, according to the regulations.
Also, beaches on the islands will be closed between noon and 5am daily, and all pleasure craft fetes, parties and entertainment events and excursions around the coastal waters and offshore islands are suspended.
From 1 Oct., all bus drivers, conductors and taxi drivers will also be required to be vaccinated.
The government stated that failure to comply with its COVID-19 provisions will result in restrictions to operate.