Lionel Max Hurst, Cheif of Staff, Office of the Prime Minister
12 March 2020
The Cabinet held extensive discussions on COVID-19 and its COVID-19 response and protocols. For more than two hours, the Cabinet discussed the nation’s preparedness for—and response to—the COVID-19, novel coronavirus outbreak, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has, on Wednesday 11th March 2020, declared a global pandemic.
Cabinet expressed its satisfaction that the response of the administration has been strictly in line with the guidelines issued by the WHO and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). The isolation and quarantine units at the Margetson Ward are nearing completion and preparations are at an advanced stage to have testing for COVID-19 virus being done locally with the assistance of PAHO. This will allow for swift diagnosis of potential cases.
The Cabinet also decided that immediate steps will be taken to increase production in the agricultural sector in order to mitigate a COVID-19 outbreak in Antigua and the impact it could have on food security due to the potential disruptions in trade. Therefore, the Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Samantha Marshall was mandated to work closely with stakeholders, inclusive of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force and Her Majesty’s Prisons farms, in order to achieve this mandate. In addition, immediate steps are to be taken to expand and improve the agro-processing capacity of the nation. Technical expertise will be provided by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) which has already started a pilot programme. This is to ensure that agricultural products that are in abundance do not go to waste.
Furthermore, several other measures have also been put in place to ensure that the nation’s borders are protected, especially in light of the impending Sailing Week. To this end, there will be increased Coast Guard patrols of our coastal waters and all vessels entering our shores will be required to give advanced notice before being permitted to dock. This will ensure that officials, including health personnel, are able to do the necessary screenings. Similar measures are already in place at the airport. The Cabinet also decided that ten (10) additional ventilators are to be purchased for the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre to ensure that there is an adequate number of ventilators to cope with any potential increase in capacity.
All schools in Antigua and Barbuda are to be provided with Vitamin-C supplements as a matter of priority. Cabinet further directed that, as a matter of policy, all persons including students, who exhibit flu-like symptoms should remain at home until such time as they have been cleared by medical professionals to return to work or school.
The discussion and the decisions made on COVID-19 was supplemented by ten (10) government officials from three (3) front-line agencies, invited to Cabinet. The Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority (ABAA) and two (2) other authority officials from ABAA; the Chief Immigration Officer and three (3) other senior officials from the Immigration Department; and the acting Chief Medical Officer and two (2) other doctors from the Ministry of Health provided additional guidance to the Cabinet. Out of the discussions, the decision was made to assign a doctor and a nurse, equipped with protective clothing, at the V.C. Bird International Airport, on eight-hour shifts, in order to ensure that any arriving passenger who may exhibit symptoms, whether a visitor or a citizen, can be either quarantined or isolated. The passengers, whose signs of illness would have been reported by the airline, are to be met on the tarmac and transported to the quarantine or isolation site.
The Cabinet repeated its policy to ban travellers who were recently in Italy and the epicentre country where the virus emanated. Cabinet also added Iran, Japan, Korea and Singapore to the list. Germany and France are on a watch list. Deaths in those countries have all collectively exceeded 1,000 from the coronavirus and infections have also been in the thousands.
Nationals of Antigua and Barbuda are required to exercise heightened levels of concern and to avoid travel if it is not essential. The Task Force established by Cabinet will meet on Friday, 13 March 2020.