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Browne also calls for “political ceasefire” with opposition, but parties remain at odds over lockdown

By Latrishka Thomas

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The government says it is constantly shopping around for vaccines in an effort to relieve Antigua and Barbuda of the crippling Covid-19 virus.

And in addition to the vaccines currently under scrutiny for local approval, the government intends to obtain the Chinese Sinovac vaccine which is said to work well against the UK and South Africa variants of the coronavirus.

“The vaccine that protects against the South African strain incidentally is a Chinese vaccine. We do not have the Chinese vaccine approved here but we have asked the committee, the technical team that presides over the approval of those vaccines, to try and expand the list of approved vaccines,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne said on Saturday.

“We already have a commitment from the Chinese government to assist with some vaccines,” he announced.

The PM disclosed that the government has already “signed an agreement with the government of Russia to try and get the Sputnik” shot.

He said that while there is no ‘best’ vaccine, the government intends to get its hands on as many as possible.

Browne said that the AstraZeneca vaccine currently being rolled out across the country, like several others, “protects 100 percent against hospitalisation and death”.

He urged residents to be “selfless” and “get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect lives and livelihoods because the life you save may be your very own – or the job you save may be your very own”.

Browne went on to commit to a “political ceasefire” for the sake of the country.

“I am going to commit myself from today that I will aspire to have nothing negative to say about my political opponents,” he vowed.

“I am asking [UPP] leader Harold Lovell and his entire team to join us in a political ceasefire. It is critical at this time. 

“The focus should be about getting our people vaccinated to protect lives and our livelihoods. I am making an earnest call for a political ceasefire between the opposition forces and government for us to understand that the priority at this time is to protect lives and livelihoods by getting our people inoculated in order to achieve herd immunity,” Browne said.

The PM also made an appeal to religious groups saying, “I will encourage them, not withstanding their faith, they should get vaccinated.”

Speaking on a local radio show, Browne was at the time responding to a caller who commented on the government’s position that there will be no lockdown of the country to fight the rise in Covid-19 cases.

He said unless the infection rate reaches a point where the health system becomes overwhelmed, the country will not go into a second national shutdown. He instead urged the nation to unite, observe the safety protocols and encourage each other to get inoculated. 

“There is no other way out … We must understand that there are consequences that go beyond our individual decisions and we have to make decisions in the interest of ourselves and our loved ones and the entire nation as a whole,” PM Browne said. 

However, Lovell told Observer that the opposition UPP believed a “strategically planned, well managed lockdown” was needed “now more than ever”.

“Covid-related deaths are rising, government ministries and departments are closing after exposure to the virus, businesses are closing until further notice and the contact-tracing machinery cannot keep up.

“A lockdown is the responsible thing to do. We call again on the Cabinet, the Ministry of Health, and the business community – including the unions, the Chamber of Commerce, the Employers Federation, and the AHTA to come together and handle this situation,” he said.

Lovell also responded to the PM’s calls for a “ceasefire”.

“Instead of asking us to stop being the political opposition, PM Browne needs to start behaving like a prime minister,” he said.

“I’m not even sure what he is talking about. The UPP has consistently been in the fight against Covid-19. 

“I started an appeal on my Facebook page for people to take the vaccine and the party has advocated for people to act responsibly and to adhere to the public health protocols,” he added.

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