The ULP administration has mandated that all omnibus operators provide evidence of their immunization against the COVID-19 virus or show that they are in compliance with the alternatively required fortnightly tests; failure to do either would result in a $100 fine. Likewise teachers across SVG, previously expected to return to face to face instructions on April 12, were to leave their respective school compounds if they refuse to either get tested for COVID-19 or take any of the approved vaccines currently on offer here.
These announcements came from Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on the latest edition of VC3’s Round Table Talk last Wednesday. PM Gonsalves also seized the opportunity to provide an update regarding recent amendments made to local Statutory Rule and Order Number 11.
According to PM Gonsalves, this SRO allows for an increase in passenger capacity as requested by the Vincentian Transportation Association even as it calls for COVID-19 vaccination or testing compliance within the sector.
Both vaccines and tests are to be provided “at the expense of the government,” Dr. Gonsalves disclosed. He also said, “there are about 600 minivans – not quite 600 – so yo talking about 1200 people and they must have their test on them or the COVID vaccine [if not it’s] a ticket-able offence of $100.
“In the same Statutory Rule and Order we go along with the minibus operators and we say listen – yo asking for more passengers and we say fine. So if it’s a 7 seater you can carry up to 5 passengers, if it’s a 14 seater – 9 passengers, if it’s a 18 seater – 12 passengers, if it’s a 22 seater – 15 passengers, 25 or 26 seater – 17 passengers, 28 or 29 seater – 19 passengers.
“These are more or less the minimum which the minibus men had asked for, the minibus operators. So we’re saying: ‘listen man – while one is not conditional on the other – look, take yo vaccine nuh man. It’s available. Take yo test [and] just be orderly and have it on you.”
We were reliably informed that the new amendment came into effect on April 5 though it is yet to be enforced as the local constabulary’s Traffic Department is currently engaged in “educating the public at this time.” As such “no one was ticketed at this time.” It is unclear at which point the Traffic Department would switch gears from education to enforcement. Top cop Colin John is yet to respond to questions fielded to him.
Meanwhile VINTAS President, Royron Adams, exclusively told Asbert News Network, “it’s unfortunate that government has to resort to punitive measures in order to influence, positively, the uptake of vaccines in Saint Vincent [and the Grenadines]. As an organization we cannot advise or influence our membership to do anything that they personally are not happy with by way of their personal body.
“Getting vaccinated remains a personal choice. I believe that what is lacking in SVG is the education around the vaccination. I know we are calling it a vaccine but the true definition of a vaccine it is something that should stop you from getting infected and stop you from spreading.
“The science has not been conclusive on those very simple features of a vaccine and if we are following the science and we have to guide our membership then we are of the opinion that the choice remains a personal decision. So it is really unfortunate that the government continue to implement punitive measures towards our sector in order to get that uptake in the vaccines.
“It is not something that we are happy with and our membership will obviously continue to take that personal position of deciding whether or not vaccination is something they want to do. But as an organization we are certainly not in agreement with the contents as outlined in the SRO by the government.”
Adams told us he is yet to receive a copy of the amended Statutory Rule and Order from the relevant authorities although he has heard Prime Minister Gonsalves “alluding to the fact that we are getting what we requested in terms of our numbers.
“However those things are coming to us with a caveat that we never requested or agreed to,” he said further of the increase in passenger capacity that was included in the latest SRO. That stipulation, Adams contended, was manifested in the government’s efforts “to tie [the increases] to vaccination.
“… As far as we are concerned there has been no increase granted. An increase with a condition is not an increase. Because in order to carry those 12 passengers that we asked for, for 18 seaters and the comparative amounts for the other capacities… you now have to prove to the authorities that you have been vaccinated as a driver and a conductor or that you’re tested every two weeks.”
The VINTAS President is currently awaiting the second dose to complete this phase of his immunization but predicts that other owner/non-operators, like himself, may find it challenging to “force” their staff to comply with the new jab or test policy. This situation could lead to less vans being available for public use, he also noted.
Adams further charged, “I personally believe that the government here has not been able to implement an education strategy geared towards promoting the vaccination drive sufficiently enough and perhaps that failure is why we are seeing this type of punitive approach towards various critical sectors.”
It is not yet clear what precise disciplinary actions await police officers or other members of the civil service who may choose to neither jab nor test.