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Opposition Leader Godwin Friday is encouraging qualified people to accept the government’s COVID-19 funeral grants, even as he made yet another call for workers dismissed over the vaccine mandate to be reinstated. 

Friday reiterated the view he expressed during the Budget Debate last week, when Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves praised health care workers for performing their duty during the height of the pandemic, even before vaccines were available. 

“And then what happened when vaccine come? All of a sudden these people are the problem; all of them now become the problem,” the opposition leader said on NICE Radio, referring to the government’s policy of mandatory vaccination, which is still in effect.

“They  force people against their will to become vaccinated and teachers, similarly, many of them are still on the breadline, because the government will not change, reverse its policy of the vaccine mandate…”

He said he had seen the government advertising a COVID-19 Relief burial grant, noting that the grant is payable regardless of the vaccination status of the deceased. 

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“…I say to people, if it’s there; go and get it,” Friday said. “It’s taxpayers’ money, but it just shows the hypocrisy of this government where … there’s no consistency in their approach. All they’re doing is trying to buy people and to try and mamaguy people … that people will somehow forget that because they’re giving COVID relief for this, they’re giving COVID for that.” 

In a press release sent to several media houses on Monday and later obtained by iWitness News, the Ministry of National Mobilisation said the “COVID RELIEF BURIAL GRANT programme” will be conducted this week.  

The programme is catering to households where a family member has died of COVID-19 during the period October 2021 to present.

The application period began on Monday and ends today, Friday Jan. 20.  

“The process is taking place at the Social Protection/Welfare Office in Kingstown,” the press release said, adding that people wishing to apply are required to take to the office their national ID card, the national ID card of the deceased relative, the death certificate of the deceased relative, and a receipt of proof of payment to the funeral home for burial.

Friday said: 

“The relief people want, the most important relief is for them to get back to their jobs, give them back their jobs. And end this misguided, and harmful, hurtful policy of the vaccine mandate that they have implemented.”

He said this is what is passing for governance or policy with respect to COVID. 

“… this government has been back and forth on it. They go from one extreme to the next. Talking about NDP this, NDP that. Nobody in NDP ever recommended that you fire people,” said Friday, who is also president of the opposition New Democratic Party.

He noted that there have not been any COVID-19 restrictions during festivals such as Carnival or at sports events as “everybody has gone back to their lives as normal, as much as possible” but the government is still not changing its policy, leaving people on the breadline. 

“You still have teachers home, you still have public servants, police, you’re not going to admit them back into the service and give them back all the benefits so that if you continue to live because of the government’s misguided policy and then you have the nerve in the budget to talk about awe inspiring and how they stay true to their oaths, and then you turn on them,” Friday said, adding that the situation is “ridiculous”. 

“And then  this COVID burial grant that they’re giving, as I said, it’s government; it’s taxpayers’ money, if you qualify go and get it, but the just shows the hypocrisy of this government on the one hand still maintaining the policies saying you have to be vaccinated, otherwise you can’t get your job and on the other hand, saying, ‘Well, you know, somebody died from COVID, whether they’re vaccinated or not, you will get a benefit.'”

He said such a policy is “cheap politics, is unproductive politics. 

“… when they’re raising taxes and raising this and raising all kinds of fees, they put their hand in your pocket, so when they come with their hand open and give you something and you benefit, take it because it’s your own money that you get back,” he said.