Government willing to compromise on cost of testing for frontline workers

Residents take a stand against what they consider the government’s “forced vaccination tactics”. (Photos by Carlena Knight)
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By Carlena Knight

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Consideration may be given to reducing the cost of the Covid-19 test for unvaccinated frontline public sector workers.

This was revealed by Prime Minister Gaston Browne who spoke exclusively with this newsroom following the recent protest outside his office on Monday over the latest policy.

“Well, they have the choice of getting vaccinated or testing regularly so that we can provide a safe working environment for workers. That’s one of the obligations of the government to provide a safe working environment for all workers. The unions too have an obligation to work with the government to provide a safe working environment for all workers, but I will say though, that perhaps we can do a carve- out to have a reduction in the testing fee. We can have discussions about having a carve-out to have a cheaper regime,” Browne said.

Dozens of residents took to the street outside of his office from 9 am yesterday to protest what they consider to be the government’s heavy-handed methods of ensuring more local residents get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

At the heart of their concerns were that frontline public sector workers have been told that if they refuse to get vaccinated, they must pay for twice-monthly tests or stay home, unpaid.

“Our body, our choice,” chanted protestors who believe that the government should not force anyone to take the vaccine against his or her will.

The protestors could be seen lining up off the Queen Elizabeth Highway with their placards in hand, demanding that their rights to not take any Covid vaccine be respected.

“Give me my freedom or kill me!” proclaimed one protestor.

“We are protesting against the bullying, the discrimination, the hatred. We want equal rights and justice. We want to be free to choose. The prime minister is infringing on all our rights. Our rights for our own bodies. God made us. Our parents made us, not he! He nah name mommy, daddy nor God!” said another.

“This is a democratic country. They don’t force anyone in America to take the vaccine. In England they don’t force anyone to take the vaccine, so why is Gaston Browne trying to force us to take a vaccine?” another asked.

“We want freedom from this dictator yah! He doesn’t care about us. The hospital up there riddled with bed bugs. He nar study about our health with the bed bugs, but he ah study about the vaccine, he nah care about arwe,” one said.

One protestor expressed his dissatisfaction with how the Gaston Browne-led government has been governing the country since 2014.

In fact, many others who spoke to this newsroom believed that the time had come for the present government to be voted out as they “are not thinking of the people with this new policy” and are “infringing on the rights of many.”

The rule has been condemned by the Antigua and Babuda Public Service Association (ABPSA) and the Antigua Trades and Labour Union, along with opposition political parties, the United Progressive Party and the Democratic National Alliance.

In fact, the unions held a meeting yesterday to discuss the matter further.

Browne mentioned that although the unions did not reach out to the government regarding the meeting held yesterday, he is still open to discussing the matter.

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