PM again rebuffs calls for another lockdown, says it will hurt more than help

By Shelton Daniel

Unless and until Antiguans and Barbudans become vaccinated against the COVID-19 disease, the country’s overall recovery from the pandemic will be practically impossible, according to Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

He was speaking on Saturday during his weekly radio programme, The Browne and Browne Show, on PointeFM 99.1.

The Prime Minister was making the dual point of why it was impractical to lockdown the country once again in response to a recent surge in new infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the disease – and why vaccination will be crucial for Antiguans and Barbudans who are desirous of travelling abroad.

The Prime Minister said tourism, the country’s main source of economic sustenance, would fare even worse if visitors remain wary of coming to Antigua and Barbuda should the virus not be brought under control through the achievement of herd immunity.

“It means potentially that business could be redirected to other countries that achieve herd immunity before us. It also means that Antiguans and Barbudans could be precluded from travelling to certain countries because we are considered to be high risk. So, if we have low participation [in the voluntary public vaccination programme] it will have significant economic and social consequences for the country, and we will see a significant increase in hospitalizations and deaths,” he stated emphatically.

The Prime Minister referenced another local radio station where he said it had been brought to his attention that the CEO (who is a talk show host and an endorsed candidate of the political opposition) were “making a mockery of the whole issue … mixing politics and healthcare” which the head of government denounced as “incompatible.”

PM Browne also dismissed reported calls by the same person for “a lockdown next Thursday and Friday … how does that really help to fight this disease? The call that Serpent and others should be making at this time is for us to get vaccinated as soon as possible so that we can protect lives and livelihoods. They go hand in hand. You cannot ignore livelihoods and focus exclusively on lives.… Ultimately, the focus is on lives, but at the same time you have to do both. You cannot ignore either, even though we are prioritizing lives.”

To those calling for a return to total lockdown as had been applied in the earliest days of the pandemic, Prime Minister Browne reminded that even with a more limited tightening of restrictions recently, many business operators were complaining about how the increase in curfew hours, among other measures, was adversely affecting them. 

“You lock down the country, there are consequences to people. There are health consequences, job losses, people will not be able to eat.… While locking down a country may reduce the level or rate of infections, I’m not aware that it has eliminated infections in any country. There are many countries within the OECS, and the wider Caribbean area, that have had far more COVID cases than Antigua and Barbuda . . . and they are still open for business.… This has to be an issue where you use every ounce of intelligence and skill to manage the health risks and the economic risks concurrently while prioritizing the health risks.”

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