CARICOM Heads reach agreement on wide range of issues
Leaders of CARICOM nations concluded two days of intense discussions at the 42nd regular meeting of the Heads of Government hosted by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne, as chairman of the community, reported that broad agreement was reached on several matters of great importance to the region.
Among them is a target to achieve ‘herd immunity’ against the COVID-19 virus within the region by the end of the year.
“The impact of the (COVID-19) pandemic and the region’s responses have occupied our attention over the past two days. We are determined to achieve 80 percent ‘herd immunity’ in the region by year end. We agreed to redouble our efforts to acquire adequate supplies of vaccines to achieve this goal,” PM Browne remarked.
According to the Prime Minister, CARICOM leaders also took note of the issue of vaccine hesitancy and that this was a concern.
“We have mandated the Secretariat to continue to collaborate with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), nursing and other allied health organisations, to identify strategies and policies to address this matter,” he stated.
The new CARICOM chairman also called on employees within the community to cooperate with employers in their bid to create a safe working environment for all by taking the vaccines or to have regular tests.
Regional travel and tourism generally also featured among the issues discussed as the leaders considered several proposals to revive the aviation and tourism sectors.
“We recognized the need to reopen our economies while balancing health and economic livelihoods. We agreed that there is need for new protocols for health and safety measures to manage the sanitation and related matters which are of outmost importance,” he reported.
Additionally, a proposal floated by Antigua and Barbuda prior to the meeting, designed to jump-start intra-regional travel, seems to have found favour with the rest of the region.
PM Browne is reporting that CARICOM leaders have agreed to reduce taxes on intra-regional travel for a six-month trial period. The leaders also agreed to consider proposals to establish a regional travel bubble on a pilot basis for six months. The region has agreed to take note of the lessons learned in setting up this travel bubble.
CARICOM leaders also want a unified approach to the issue of dealing with vaccinated persons as well as a common position on dealing with cruise passengers.
“The heads have mandated the secretariat, CARPHA and other related bodies, to convene a high-level meeting with the cruise lines to agree on minimum health and safety standards for the resumption of cruise sailing in the region,” PM Browne stated.
Outgoing CARICOM secretary-general Erwin La Roque said the region has been commended for its handling of the pandemic, but he too expressed concern with the level of vaccine hesitancy in the region. Ambassador La Roque noted that this could jeopardize the gains made by the region in containing the virus over the past 16 months.