By Kadeem Joseph
Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel “Max” Hurst is talking up a proposal that could result in unvaccinated government workers being subjected to mandatory, periodic Covid-19 testing.
His comments were in response to President of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association (ABPSA) Joan Peters querying how unvaccinated public servants would finance twice-monthly tests for the virus, after Prime Minister Gaston Browne said government was considering the measure.
However, Hurst said that while he would excuse those workers who are pregnant or might be subjected to blood clots from taking the vaccine, others are intent on “being obstinate” and are rejecting the idea of taking vaccines because they are listening to “silly people who are spreading lies and untruths and otherwise trying to dumb us down”.
In reiterating the government’s encouragement to get vaccinated, the Chief of Staff is advising the public to “take the vaccine and you won’t have that expense”.
Hurst said people must exercise social responsibility on the issue of vaccinations, not only to protect their coworkers, but also their friends to ensure that “they do not make them sick”.
Meanwhile, Hurst is also pushing back on claims that the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) is opposed to the involvement of the diaspora in nation building, which was asserted by former UPP candidate Dr McChesney Emanuel on Monday.
Dr Emanuel also claimed that the ABLP has had a culture of excluding the diaspora.
But Hurst said that “the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party has shown an interest in citizens abroad from the very beginning and we have intensified it since the Honourable Gaston Browne became the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda”.
In highlighting several examples, Ambassador Hurst said the ABLP has worked with a plethora of organisations of citizens abroad such that even in 1995 following the passage of Hurricane Luis, “we could write to virtually every national in New York to let them know that Antigua and Barbuda was in trouble and we needed their help”.
He said his party has also honoured outstanding citizens abroad during an annual Independence church service.
Hurst said the Prime Minister has also had several meetings in New York with members of the diaspora.
His comments followed similar sentiments from the Minister of Foreign Affairs EP Chet Greene, who pointed out that the government has created the diaspora help desk, has held several meetings with members of the diaspora before and after the pandemic, and has offered economic opportunities to citizens living abroad to make “critical” investments in the twin island state.
The foreign affairs minister also said he has been working in collaboration with Dr Noel Howell and other charitable groups to assist residents living here.
Greene noted that during his tenure as minister of culture the government facilitated the appearance of cultural icons and guest speakers during Independence celebrations abroad, and that while much of the diaspora relations have been culture-themed, the ruling administration has been seeking to have “more economic engagements”.