By Orville Williams
Starting October 1, all public sector employees – not just those on the frontlines – will be required to be vaccinated or to produce a twice-monthly Covid-19 test, in order to be allowed into government offices.
The change in policy was announced yesterday and is a drastic shift from what has been in place for the past few months, where only frontline public sector workers were subject to it, on account of their frequent and, in some cases, close engagement with visitors to the island.
There has been a sharp rise in Covid infections over the past couple of weeks, however, and there have also been instances where government offices have had to temporarily suspend operations due to positive cases.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas told yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing that the primary reason for the policy change was to increase protection against the virus.
“Prior to this period, we had really focused on frontline workers, [but] given the fact that we have seen multiplication of persons with vaccinations across the board, we have taken the position that as of October 1st, the policy will become applicable to all public sector workers in all of the agencies and all of the formats of the government, to include the statutory bodies as well,” Nicholas said.
“The reason why we have gone to the first of October is that we will give permanent secretaries and other senior public officials sufficient time to put regimes in place.”
Nearly 14,000 employees are set to be subject to the policy change, but they won’t be expected to ‘empty their pockets’, as both the vaccinations and the testing remain free of charge.
What some of those employees will need to keep at the back of their minds, is the sanction that the government has declared for those who refuse to get vaccinated or get tested.
It has been repeatedly said that those individuals will be prevented from working as normal, given the threat they pose to their respective workplaces; they will be asked to stay away from work without pay until they are prepared to comply.
While that declaration might seem harsh, the government does not appear to be as strict in enforcing it, despite the numerous repetitions.
Nicholas was questioned about whether any frontline staff had actually been ‘sent home’ due to non-compliance in recent time, but he avoided a direct answer, instead saying the enforcement has been “indifferent”.
He explained that there had been some misunderstandings with regard to how the rules were communicated and noted that some uniformity would be necessary going forward, to ensure the efficiency of the policy.