Gov’t signals the end to public and private sector jab mandates

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By Kadeem Joseph

[email protected]

With more and more businesses in the private sector reporting at least 80 percent of employees being vaccinated thus far, the government is allowing employers the option to have workers who have not yet received a Covid jab to return to work as of December 1.

On October 29, the government officially gazetted the requirement for every business owner employing five or more persons to mandate staff be vaccinated against Covid-19 in a push to achieve herd immunity by year-end.

Last week, the government also announced plans for a $5,000 fine for businesses found running afoul of the law.

Minister of Information Melford Nicholas, speaking during Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, explained that the government decided to make the latest adjustment after being approached by several institutions, including the Bankers’ Association.

Nicholas, however, clarified that these unvaccinated individuals will be required to get an antigen test for the virus every two weeks with “businesses or the individuals who are working in these businesses required to pick up the $50 charge”.

While these tests can be obtained at community clinics, the minister added that individuals may also opt to get tested through private institutions.

Observer reached out to a few major employers to get their reaction to the change, however many indicated that most if not all of their staff members are already jabbed.

One such business owner is Sir George Ryan, the owner of several businesses to include Antigua Plumbing and Hardware, who said that all of his workers have been vaccinated for some time now.

Sir George explained that the company has done its best to encourage its employees to get jabbed, even going as far as employing the help of a medical practitioner to offer guidance and testing.

“We talked to them (employees) and explained to them that we have a government that has made certain suggestions and, rather than putting the business and maybe their families in trouble, just get it done,” he added.

But the road to the company’s high vaccination rate was not without struggles, with one employee passing away due to the dreaded virus, an incident he believes led to more workers opting to get the jab.

Sir David Shoul, co-owner of Shoul’s Toys, Gifts and Housewares, also indicated that all of his staff had been vaccinated since May.

“We had staff who were anxious to get vaccinated and for that we really felt proud,” he added.

Sir David said while a few members of staff were initially hesitant to get the jab, he is happy that the company did not have to push them to get vaccinated.

He further stated that the prospect of employing unvaccinated members of staff in the future will have to come under consideration, in consultation with the present staff complement. 

Minister Nicholas also indicated that the government has decided to relax the vaccine mandate for the public sector on December 1 as well, with more than 90 percent of the public sector vaccinated against the Covid- 19 virus.

“This is going to be some good news for all those public servants who have not yet complied with the vaccine requirements. They will be allowed to return to work but again the same requirement would be made for them to get tested,” Nicholas said.

He explained that while fortnightly antigen testing would be free of cost for public sector employees, this could change at the end of December when the government may consider applying a charge.

These relaxations are among several that point to the further normalisation of the status quo in Antigua and Barbuda, with the government hoping to soon eliminate the state of emergency, under which the country has operated with varying restrictions since March 2020.

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