Unvaccinated taxi drivers have been barred from operating at Argyle International Airport, the main airfield in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“With respect to taxi drivers, as of July 23, 2021, only fully vaccinated taxi drivers can operate at the AIA,” Minister of Health, St. Clair “Jimmy” Prince announced on WE FM’s Shake Up on Thursday.
The health minister said that of the 350 total registered authorised taxi drivers in St. Vincent, 31 are fully vaccinated, and 13 on Bequia are fully vaccinated on Bequia.
“And these are the two main destinations for cruise ships that we have,” the minister said.
He said that health officials are encouraging taxi drivers to take the COVID-19 jab, adding that taxi drivers would also need to take the vaccine to transport cruise visitors.
“And, when the cruise ships come, the drivers will have to be vaccinated otherwise they will have to go elsewhere and ply their trade. But we are encouraging them, please take the vaccine. It is in your interest to do so, not just in your health interest but equally in your economic interest,” Prince said.
Health officials in SVG have been combating deep-rooted vaccination hesitancy and had hoped that the July 13 arrival of 50,000 doses of the Russian vaccine, the Sputnik V, would have boosted uptake.
The government has said that some people had indicated that they were waiting for the Russian vaccine, as opposed to the Indian AstraZeneca seeing that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and other senior government officials had taken the Russian jab in February.
However, Prince said that so far, just over 1,048 doses of Sputnik V had been administered, as people are “not exactly rushing” to take the jab.
The situation obtains even as a further 20,000 doses of the Sputnik V are yet to be delivered and 21,000 doses of AstraZeneca already in the country may have to be given away to another Caribbean country — as had been done before — if spoilage is to be avoided, should the hesitancy continue.
The minister said that the ministry of Health has proposed “and which was carried” protocols for cruise lines arriving in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“And there are a number of issues in the proposal that we will have to act on,” Prince said.
He said that fully vaccinated local vendors, port of entry personnel and designated sites will allow for safe, vaccinated bubbles.
The minister said that the entry protocols for arriving cruise travellers mandate that the crew or passengers must arrive with a negative PCR test done 24 to 48 hours prior to boarding the ship.
The ship must submit the cruise manifest, maritime declaration of health and negative PRC results at least 24 hours prior to arrival, and passengers and crew arriving by air to join the cruise will be subjected to protocols for entry by air.
“When they come off the ship, they go directly to a taxi, with a vaccinated driver, a tour guide or whoever the agent is will have to be vaccinated also. And they go, let’s say, to Gardens, the Gardens will be closed for other people, for other traffic and they do what they have to do there and they go back to the taxi and back to the cruise ship,” Prince said, adding that this will also apply to all other tourist sites, including beaches.
“It has to be controlled. Absolutely. Because you don’t know what is coming in. this is really to protect people, protect Vincentians so people can’t say well, ‘Wha’ yo’ close Gardens for? We wah go Gardens.’ Yeah. We close it for your protection. So there will be bubbles; cruise bubbles we call them…
“I think it is in the interest of the taxi drivers to get vaccinated,” the minister said.