Opposition Leader Godwin Friday says that Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar’s COVID-19 infection, despite his vaccinated status, illustrates the importance of testing for the virus, even among vaccinated people.
“And I trust that he will have a speedy recovery — that there be no long term effects or serious illness,” the opposition leader told iWitness News on Sunday.
“But it does demonstrate the requirement for us to focus on public health considerations, first and foremost,” he said.
Caesar has tested positive for COVID-19, according to St. Vincent Times.
His COVID-19 status was diagnosed during testing for all MPs, ordered by Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, ahead of today’s (Monday’s) presentation of the 2022 Budget.
Friday said that there was no indication that the Budget Debate — which has been postponed twice — would not proceed today, as scheduled.
He, however, said that he received, on Sunday, the second iteration of the most recent protocols.
“And basically they were addressing matters of testing and who has to be tested and how they would be tested. But no word about — no further indication from the speaker as to the status of Parliament. So we assume everything is going ahead for tomorrow afternoon at four o’clock,” Friday told iWitness News.
The revised protocols require testing of all MPs ahead of the commencement of the Budget Debate.
Previously, only unvaccinated lawmakers and those who had not disclosed their vaccination status were required to test within 48 hours of the meeting of the national assembly.
Friday welcomes the changes, which included temperature checks, but said that the repeat testing should be across the board.
“… But common sense will tell you that really everybody should be tested regularly when you go into the house — every two days. Not just vaccinated or undeclared status but everyone, if we want to ensure that we are safe.”
Under the new protocols, unvaccinated lawmakers would have to test every 48 hours and the assembly chamber is to be sanitised every four hours, where practicable. It will be sanitised after the Budget Address, after the opposition leader’s four hours response, and after Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ allotted four hours.
Friday noted that the most recent protocols still permit vaccinated MPs to speak from their seats, without a mask, while unvaccinated lawmakers or those who have not declared their status must speak from behind a booth and must wear a mask while doing so.
The opposition leader said that the meeting he had hoped to have with the CMO on this matter should have taken place today, Jan. 10.
“But, of course, there’s Parliament… And that’s not practical anymore. So we have to put it off at some point. But we need to have that conversation,” he said.
Friday wants to meet with the CMO “to understand the rationale behind some of the protocols that were there, to explain them to us and to listen to suggestions as to how we think, practically speaking, the Parliament could function more safely and effectively taking into account the public health considerations and, of course, the need for members to participate”.
He reiterated that the protocols say that vaccinated MPs are not required to wear a mask while speaking but all MPs must be masked when not speaking.
“That, to me, seems to be contrary to common sense, but maybe there’s some scientific rationale that can explain it to me,” he said, adding that this is why he would like a consultation with the CMO.
The opposition leader said that the CMO has abandoned her requirement for unvaccinated MPs to wear a black mask.
The protocols say that all MPs must wear an N95/KN95 face mask at all times while in the chamber.
Friday, however, said that the booth “seems to be the safest place from which to speak in any event”.
He told iWitness News that he had recommended to the speaker that each MP have a plexiglass shelf around their seating area regardless of their vaccination status.
“The response was that they could not provide each member with a plexiglass shield around their desk or at least around where they were speaking, at their desks, because it would be too heavy and it would be unsafe to do that in the Parliament chambers.”
Friday noted that because of the novel coronavirus there is no public gallery in the assembly chamber and a limited number of MPs, staff and other persons are allowed inside.
“So whatever weight considerations, I would think would be affected by the fact that there were so few people in the chamber to begin with,” he said.
Friday said that the minister’s positive test gives more credence to the opposition’s call for testing across the board.
“The thing is, what we have to ask ourselves is, ‘How do we protect ourselves in the current situation?’ We know that that vaccination is the quickest and the safest way out of the pandemic, long term.
“But today, we have to do things that we know that we can do to protect ourselves, and one of those has to be testing, regular testing, and also to use masks or do things that prevent people from infecting one another.”