By Demion McTair. Updated 9:03 p.m., Wednesday, April 7, 2021, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Teachers who are not tested for Covid-19 and are unvaccinated by April 12, 2021, when face-to-face school resumes, will be asked to leave the school compound, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says.
Speaking on Wednesday on VC3’s Roundtable Talk, which was streamed LIVE on Facebook, Dr. Gonsalves said “tomorrow the 8th and Friday the 9th (April) we are asking the teachers across the whole of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the areas where you are from, go to your clinic, take the test”.
The moderator of the program, Theresa Daniel intervened saying: “the test or the vaccine,” to which the prime minister agreed, saying “the test or the vaccine”. “You take the test, or you take the vaccine. Preferably, you take the vaccine,” he said.
“So, you go on Thursday and Friday, you take your vaccine, you take your test, when you go into the principal on the 12th, you say well listen, I am vaccinated, or I am tested. No big thing,” Dr. Gonsalves said.
“If you’re not, you’ll be asked. Listen, you can’t stay on the compound until you go and get vaccinated or go and get tested,” Dr. Gonsalves added.
He said that on April 12th, “I am informed that the ministry of health will have health personnel available to go also to test”.
The prime minister said that teachers are on the frontline, as workers and will therefore have a greater risk where Covid-19 is concerned.
He said that up to April 3, 2021, some 331 out of about 1,800 teachers have been vaccinated.
“If all of you go and you take the vaccine, that’s fine because already up to the 3rd, 331 teachers have taken the vaccine. I don’t think people realize as many as 17 percent of the teachers have taken the vaccine. Not enough, but bigger than the average,” the prime minister said.
He said that the Rapid Antigen Covid-19 tests, which are nasal swabs, take 20 minutes to produce results. He said if the rapid antigen test shows a Covid-19 positive result, “they would then go and take a PCR test”.
If that PCR test comes back positive, the individual would be isolated and “you do your quarantine…,” adding that if it comes back negative, the individual will be allowed to teach.
“It’s as simple as ABC, it’s a matter of solidarity,” he said.
THE MARCH 31 MEMO AND THE WORKERS UNIONS
The prime minister’s comments come amid controversy surrounding a March 31, 2021, memo from the country’s Cabinet which stated that unvaccinated public sector workers “are required to be tested regularly for COVID-19 infection, up to once every two (2) weeks, based on risk levels as determined by the health authorities”.
The deputy prime minister, Montgommery Daniel, who acted as prime minister in Dr. Gonsalves’ absence, also communicated the information via a letter.
Several workers unions, including the SVG Public Service Union and the SVG Teachers’ Union have taken issue with the policy, and have held a public discussion on the matter with their lawyers.
In a joint statement by the Public Service Union, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union, and the Police Welfare Association (PWA), on Wednesday, the unions said they are awaiting the government’s public health policy and procedure “which must be clearly and unequivocally set out”.
The unions, which held a meeting with prime minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on April 6, say “we are of the considered opinion that until such a document is provided to ALL parties, that there can be no implementation of the Vaccination and Testing Health Policy for Public Servants”.
“We have been reliably informed that several departments have begun implementing the government’s policy; this must stop immediately because such an implementation is arbitrary. Employees ought to know exactly what is expected of them and the employer, the State[,] must ensure that such information is provided,” the unions said.
Of particular concern with the March 31 memo, was the interpretation of the phrase “up to once every two weeks”.
The prime minister explained that up to once every two weeks means you cannot be tested more than once every two weeks and that the decision to test is up to the health authorities, based on the determined risks.
He said several government departments have had to close due to COVID-19 infection, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Director of Public Prosecution’s Chambers, the Accountant General’s Office, and others.
The unions have said that they are not against vaccination, but rather against the way in which the policy is being implemented.
Some public sector workers have expressed concern over the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been controversial, while others have said that they want more time and more information to make a decision.
The prime minister said that the vaccines are safe.