By Orville Williams
Despite countless pronouncements on the need for widespread Covid-19 vaccinations and reaching herd immunity, one official at the Antigua and Barbuda Chamber of Commerce is insisting that any decisions made in this regard, should account for the individual rights of residents.
The collective efforts of the government, the private sector and the wider population have resulted in low levels of infection over the past weeks, while more than 31,000 people have been successfully inoculated with a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the public vaccination programme.
Those achievements are nothing to scoff at, especially when compared to some other territories, but they are still not enough to propel the country to a desperately-needed socio-economic rebound.
For example, the tourism sector – the nation’s biggest revenue-generating industry – is unable to secure the complete trust and commitment from international partners, unless a significant portion of the local population is vaccinated.
In recent days, officials have reported that cruise operators and other prospective vacationers have been requesting that the personnel they are likely to engage with on their visit to the island – namely, taxi drivers, shop workers and tour operators – be vaccinated, to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
Those requests cannot even be viewed as unfair, because the same cruise operators have assured that they will only accept and transport travellers who are fully vaccinated, with their staff also fully vaccinated. Many of the persons looking to make vacation bookings are likely fully vaccinated as well.
Amid these requests, the government has been encouraging leaders in these business areas to get themselves and their staff vaccinated, to be able to benefit from the eventual rebound.
Many have stepped up and voiced their solidarity with that call, but Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Martin Cave, is singing a slightly different tune.
Speaking on the issue yesterday, Cave acknowledged the sensitivity of the urgent need for vaccinations, but maintained that the goals must be reached without infringing on the rights of the population.
“There this dichotomy, this conflict, because obviously the Chamber of Commerce – like any responsible business collective – would wish to have the economy bounce back as quickly and as robustly as possible. So, obviously, the quicker the population can be [free] of the risks from Covid-19, the better for us.
“But the Chamber, households and the country are made up of individuals, and there is where the conundrum lies. Because, while we want that, we’re also mindful and respectful of the right of the individual.
“I would say that we would support whatever is good for the entire country, that does not infringe on the individual’s rights,” Cave explained.
On a personal level, residents who share those views will surely be happy to have such a respected figure voicing the sentiment, but from a strictly professional standpoint, a decision may have to be made sooner than later.
With herd immunity still some distance away and discussions for the resumption of the tourism sector escalating almost daily, consensus is now the name of the game for everyone involved.