March 31st, 2020
I rise at safe social distance in full support the Resolution pursuant to section 20(2) of the Constitution of Antigua & Barbuda approving a State of Emergency. This Resolution is timely and extremely important in bringing government’s responsibility for management and control of this dangerous crisis.
It is therefore a distinct honor and privilege to participate in this the first ever virtual meeting of the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda, a testimony for the history books of the far-reaching governance consequences of the severe public health and socio-economic crisis visited on us by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
I thank the government of Antigua and Barbuda, especially the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health for proactive, decisive, courageous, caring and people centered leadership that has inspired purpose, dedication, commitment and exemplary solidarity in the national response. COVID-19 is affecting more than 780 thousand people in 200 countries. More than 37 thousand people have died and more than 165 thousand have recovered so far.
This pandemic is serious. It requires us to avoid panic and to act responsibly. Antigua and Barbuda has 7 cases of COVID-19 after recording its first case 19 days ago on March 12th, 2020. There is no doubt that our resilience will be challenged like never before not just in combating the spread but in how we turn this period of uncertainty and adversity into advancement opportunities.
I thank all the health care providers, public officers and the patriots of our land sacrificing on the frontline of the fight against this invisible killer. I thank their families for the blessing of their services above and beyond the call of duty. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones around the world… I empathize with victims of the virus who are recovering or fighting for their lives.
As we stepped up border protection to prevent entry in the early months of the year, we all hoped and prayed that COVID-19 would leave us alone. We were not that lucky. Now that it is with us, our collective effort must of necessity be all about focused, disciplined containment of the spread – identify, isolate and treat the disease effectively to keep mortality as low and possible.
In this regard, a severe challenge faces our health care system which could be overwhelmed with too many cases too quickly.
There is no question that our health care system needs additional capacity for effective management and control of this pandemic… more doctors, more nurses, more testing equipment, special isolation units, more hospital beds, more ventilators, more personal protective equipment, adequate medical supplies, epidemiological surveillance systems to detect out breaks at community level, quarantine facilities. I commend the government for spending $20 million so far.
In addition to the significant amount of money needed to rapidly improve the readiness of our health care system to meet the COVID-19 challenge, we need money for relief of our people, the restoration of their livelihoods and the recovery of their severely battered economy
That is why the private sector and civil society organizations must come to the assistance of the government of Antigua and Barbuda that is exhausting public funds on the priority of fighting COVID-19 at a time when the same pandemic has brought national income from the vital tourism industry and other sectors to a standstill.
Antigua and Barbuda needs its wealthy citizens, profitable companies and progressive civil society organization to establish at least in the first instance, a 50 million dollar ECD fund to help government meet the burdensome cost of the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All those wealthy homeowners at Jumby Bay, Mill Reef, Galley Bay, and Jolly Harbour, who have enjoyed millions of dollars in tax concessions and relief over the years; all those business persons who have enjoyed very lucrative government contracts, and in some instances, monopolistic and exclusive government contracts, need now more than ever to step up to the plate and be good corporate citizens.
I recall after hurricane Irma that devasted Barbuda, the Hon. Prime Minister and myself donated very generously of our personal resources. My family gave EC$540,000 to the Barbuda Relief Fund. Others much wealthier than us gave either very little and most gave absolutely nothing.
As John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your it.”
The time has come for us to share our many resources with the State, our fellow citizens and residents. We have to now more than before be our brother’s keeper.
We will beat the virus; but only with collective action. I call on the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda in general and citizens of the St Peter’s Constituency in particular follows the rules of engagement in the battle against COVID-19.
- Keep your mind, body and surroundings clean;
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water;
- Cover your face with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing then throw the tissue in a waste bin;
- Maintain social distance – isolate yourself, avoid travelling and gatherings, stay home. Social distancing is not punishment. It is an opportunity to use rest, silence, solitude as tools for personal repair self-renewal and growth;
- Build up your immunity to disease by eating healthy food, exercising regularly and sleeping properly
- Take care of yourself and your loved ones
- Be supportive, be careful, be alert, be kind
So far, Antigua and Barbuda has done extremely well in the battle against the novel corona virus. But there is a lot more to be done. In these times of encircling gloom and doom, let us find the silver linings, the bright lights of hope. Let us care for each other, let us share with each other… let us use our togetherness to fight and prevail over the
catastrophe of COVID-19 that now encircles the world.
Let me give greatest kudos and gratitude to all frontline workers, the Hon Prime Minister- the Member for St. John’s City West, who is leading from the front. The Hon. Minister of Health- the Member for St. Mary’s North, the unrelenting Chief Public Health Officer, Dr Rhonda Sealy Thomas, the Chief Immigration Officer and her staff, doctors, nurses, Commissioner of Police – Mr. Atlee Rodney, and all the policemen, Col. Telbert Benjamin and the Antigua & Barbuda Defence Force, and all the countless others who have been risking their own health to keep the rest of us healthy and alive. In fact, the police have shown that it can handle breaches of peace, curfews and gatherings. They have been doing a great job. For example, how they handled the overcrowded church at Bolans and breaking up of the beach party at Deep Bay.
Another area I think the government should give guidelines in is the matter of pandemic leave. I am very pleased that we have gone the way of Grenada, BVI, Turks and Caicos and some others and declared a 24/7 shut down of the country.
But the reality is Mr. Speaker,
Shutdowns will wipe out some small and micro businesses, many of which have no cushion to see
them through periods of no business. The employers and business owner should not have to bear the full brunt of the shutdowns. The employee should be forced to take his vacation leave during periods of shutdown of the business before the employer is forced to pay pandemic leave. I hope the Government looks favourably on this. It is only fair that government, employers and employees all make sacrifices to help us all in the end.
Grenada Health Minister Nicholas Steele in addressing the people of Grenada last night while introducing stiffer measures.
“Every time you break or ignore guidelines to quarantine when you have been exposed, you are potentially taking the life of one of our citizens. Maybe you are prepared to take the gamble, but unfortunately, it’s not only to your detriment. You are endangering the lives of each of us,” Health Minister Nicholas Steele said in a radio and television broadcast on Sunday night.
“Lives are at stake. Your life is at stake. Your grandmother’s life is at stake. Your father’s life is under threat. My life and that of my family are under threat, and so is my neighbour’s. Whole families stand to be wiped out. From the halls of the palace to the seat of prime ministers, to the village slums, COVID-19 has shown that it respects no one,”
Thank you very much Mr. Speaker