By Demion McTair. Updated 9:00 p.m., Friday, April 9, 2021, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Kingstown, St. Vincent: A report by ABC news has brought into question recent remarks by St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, regarding the need for volcano evacuees to be vaccinated to be able to board cruise ships sent to evacuate them.
Thousands of people had to flee their homes and belongings in communities in the Red Zone as the La Soufriere volcano went into an explosive mood on April 8.
Since then, the government announced that Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines offered to send ships to transport evacuees to neighbouring islands.
“The cruise ships are indicating that to come on board, that you would be required to be vaccinated,” Dr. Gonsalves said at an emergency press conference on Thursday.
But, a report by ABC News published on Friday, ABC’s Transportation Correspondent, Gio Benitez said they “spoke to the cruise lines and they are saying they are not making vaccinations mandatory for boarding that boat, but they are leaving that up to local health officials”.
It is not clear if Mr. Benitez spoke to both Royal Caribbean and Carnival, but the report has caused a stir in St. Vincent.
At Thursday’s press conference, Dr. Gonsalves also said “the countries which have indicated that they would accept us, they would want us to be vaccinated before we come there”.
It is not clear if it is an official and established policy by the countries that offered to temporarily take Vincentians, that they would “want” them to be vaccinated.
On Thursday night (April 8), Tourism Minister, Carlos James came under fire for saying that people who enter government-operated shelters will be vaccinated.
“There is a pandemic that is taking place and we will be vaccinating persons once they enter a government-operated shelter. And I want that to be very clear to persons listening this LIVE as well,” Mr. James said.
James is not the only politician who has come under fire for giving what some have considered a vaccine ultimatum.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves came under fire earlier this week for saying that untested and unvaccinated teachers who show up for face-to-face classes that were scheduled for April 12, would-be asked to leave the compound.
But, due to heightened activity at the volcano on Thursday, the prime minister had to relax his policy as the reopening of face-to-face school had to be put off. Schools will be conducted online, he said.
SVG’s GOVERNMENT’S AGGRESSIVE COVID-19 AGENDA VS. INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS
Some activists have argued that the policy government’s aggressive vaccination policy at a time of emergency is being forced upon vulnerable people, some who have nowhere else to go but at government shelters and who may have reservations about the vaccine.
Some people have cited recent developments with the AstraZeneca as the basis for their reservations.
“Under-30s in the UK are to be offered an alternative Covid vaccine to the AstraZeneca jab due to the evidence linking it to rare blood clots,” the BBC reported on April 7.
Members of the government, however, including Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves have maintained that the vaccine is safe.
The only other option to the AstraZeneca is the Russian Sputnik vaccine, which is not popularly advertised.
The government maintains that it is trying to protect the country’s public health infrastructure by preventing deadly Covid-19 outbreaks at shelter.
The government is also arguing that if persons have to leave the country to temporarily live in neighbouring territories, they would need to be vaccinated.
There has been no official word to that effect from any of the other countries promising to take Vincentians, if the volcano becomes explosive.
The countries are Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands.
While the government is aggressively promoting vaccination, rights activists are arguing that taking a vaccine is a personal choice and alternatives, for now, can be to continue to implement stringent Covid-19 protocols such as hand-washing, social distancing, and mask-wearing.