The COVID-19 infection numbers this week — one week after the end of Vincymas 2022 ended — could influence the government’s decision on whether to rehire teachers who were fired last December for not taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves seemed to have anticipated comments about the law requiring teachers to be vaccinated to enter classrooms, even as Vincentians, regardless of their vaccination status, partied together for the first carnival since the pandemic struck in 2020.
The thousands of Vincentians who attended events organised by the state-owned Carnival Development Corporation and private promoters over the last two weeks did not have to prove their vaccination status, wear facemasks, or observe physical distancing.
However, to enter the classroom at public schools, teachers have to be vaccinated, as is the case for other public servants and a wide cross-section of public sector workers, including doctors, nurses, and police officers.
Hundreds of teachers as well as a number of police officers and health workers were fired last December over their decision to not take a COVID-19 vaccine.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union and the Public Service Union are suing the government over the dismissal of the public sector workers.
“An issue hasn’t come up but which would arise and which I had alluded to sometime before,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on radio on Sunday.
“We have had carnival, we are going to see in the next few days whether there’s a spike or not in COVID.”
On Sunday, health officials announced eight new COVID-19 cases, taking the total number of active cases to 77.
There has not been any major spike in cases since some of the largest fetes for Vincymas 2022, which took place beginning on the last weekend in June.
On June 28, the country had 97 active cases, compared to 77 on Sunday – 12 days after some of the largest crowds for Vincymas 2022 had assembled.
The country also recorded three COVID-19 deaths during that period, taking the total to 114.
Speaking on WE FM, Gonsalves said:
“If there is not a spike in the COVID, the question arises for answer — and it has practical implication and application — now that we are staffing afresh or having new staffing arrangement for the new school term: what is the situation of those teachers in a new epidemiological situation or an altered epidemiological situation as far as COVID is concerned?
“Should those teachers who did not take the vaccine and who under the law, where there was a requirement for them to take it, that when they didn’t take it, they had abandoned their jobs under the law, whether they should he offered to return, if they wish to return, and on what conditions they return, in relation to vaccine, in relation to testing, mask-wearing?”
He further said that another consideration would be what parents would say “in relation to the liberalisation of any conditions.
“Would the parents feel that an unvaccinated teacher is safe to have in the classroom still in relation to their children? Would the vaccinated teachers like the unvaccinated teacher inside of the staffroom?”
The prime minister said that the consideration is “not only about those teachers who chose not to take the vaccine and who did not meet the requirement in law.
“So those are questions which may emerge within the next couple of weeks,” he said, adding, “Well, it is not unreasonable for anyone to give consideration to their emergence or re-emergence but it is not, again, a simple straightforward issue.
“And, of course, fundamental to all this is what would be the advice tendered by the chief medical officer and those who are entrusted in law to provide relevant advice to the state authorities in making determinations.”
The prime minister said that as always he would anticipate questions that may arise and “provide a framework for the possible consideration of a solution.
“I just raise that because that emerges from the carnival period as a factual matter,” Gonsalves said, adding that he was sure that the chief medical officer and the health authorities are reflecting on that.
He noted that Sunday was five days since Mardi Gras, when Vincymas 2022 ended.
“We should begin to see if there is going to be any significant spike that tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday, we would see how the numbers emerge in what normally would be the incubation period for a virus, where it becomes manifest, the symptoms and the like. At least, as far as I understand, that’s the scientific learning.”