By Gemma Handy
An “irresponsible” senior civil servant has incurred the wrath of government heads after apparently displaying lax regard for Covid safety, contracting the virus and triggering the shutdown of an entire department.
Scores of public sector workers are now being tested for the illness in a bid to stem further contagion. All staff at the affected department are now isolated, with ministers warning of a ripple effect across multiple government offices.
Health Minister Molwyn Joseph yesterday chided the unnamed official for not wearing a facemask while mingling with coworkers in the office.
“As a result, we will be swabbing 42 workers in government from that one individual … to determine who is infected,” he told parliament.
“As a minister, sometimes we make statements that become controversial and we get criticized, but my responsibility is to protect the people of Antigua and Barbuda,” Joseph added.
The infected employee also came under fire from Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
“This very senior person was in the office, literally amongst many individuals, walking around others without a mask,” he said.
“I want to say to the people of this country – both in the public and private sectors – that wherever you see anyone taking that type of irresponsible action you have a responsibility to call law enforcement, even in the office,” Browne continued.
“It puts the entire office at risk. Those involved in contact tracing now have to go beyond that office to determine the extent of the exposure throughout the community, making the contact tracing extremely difficult,” he added.
There had been whispers of an infection within a government department earlier in the week. And that was confirmed yesterday by Information Minister Melford Nicholas.
He told journalists during the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing that people who had had direct contact with the infected worker had also been asked to quarantine.
He warned that the likelihood of further infections is significant.
“No doubt this has spread across a number of government departments because we are a small society,” Nicholas said.
He was asked about the knock-on effect on additional institutions too, such as schools attended by impacted employees’ children.
“The contact tracing will fan out into all areas. At least three employees from my ministry, in two different departments, have been advised they have to be quarantined. And the exercise continues,” he said.
Nicholas was unequivocal in his message that the country remains at significant risk of the coronavirus which continues to wreak havoc across the globe. He conceded local case numbers were likely to continue to rise as the nation’s borders remain open to tourists.
And he pleaded with residents to abide by health guidelines and take every precaution to limit the spread.
Up to press time, Antigua and Barbuda had officially recorded 112 Covid-19 cases since the outbreak of the pandemic – nine of which remain active.