My fellow citizens and residents, it is a pleasure to be able to host tonight’s edition of Leadership Matters. Leadership Matters is a popular interactive programme in the best traditions of good governance and accountability. It allows everyone the opportunity to engage the leadership of the country and to be better informed on matters of public interest. It allows me, as Prime Minister to hear from my beloved people, to better appreciate their concerns and consider any deficits in public policy implementation. I am always inspired to redouble my efforts to be of better service to the citizens and residents of my beloved country. Your feedback helps me to become better at serving and delivering to you.
On tonight’s Leadership Matters, I propose to address our ongoing efforts to move St. Kitts and Nevis out of the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and to the stronger and safer future.
We continue to experience continued progress in our economy. More persons have found employment. The tourism sector: the most severely hit of all sectors is regaining its strength and buoyancy. While we are not at preCOVID-19 levels, we can now see that light at the end of the tunnel. This last quarter is the best since we closed our borders in March 2020.
In 2021, we are recording significant increases in air lift into our country. All airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Caribe Air Charters, LIAT, Sky High and other charters are now back and doing good business. About sixty percent of all arriving passengers are from the USA. Twenty percent of the total arriving passengers are Nationals of St. Kitts and Nevis.
The good news is that tourism is coming back in a strong way. Today we had 3 cruise vessels docked at Port Zante including the Enchanted Princess making its inaugural visit bringing 1,300 passengers. This means more jobs for taxi operators, more business, higher incomes, etc. We are grateful to God for these wonderful developments, yet we are mindful of the downside risks. COVID-19 is the most significant challenge to our achieving double digit growth. We must confront and overcome it. The IMF predicts that in 2022 our economy will grow by 10 percent.
New Health Policies
The extent to which our economy will progress depends on how quickly we contain this third wave of COVID-19 infection and continue to suppress the rate of transmission. Thankfully, the daily data of infection rates and recoveries point to the fact that as a country collectively we have contained this third wave. However, there is no room for complacency as we can easily lose all the gains we have made. Keeping the virus contained is our individual and collective responsibility.
It requires each of us to adhere to the non-pharmaceutical measures –the wearing of masks, frequent washing of our hands, and avoiding crowds.
The most powerful tool we have is the vaccine as it significantly reduces the risk of us becoming infected, spreading the infection and it also offers significant protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death.
If you choose not to get vaccinated your only means of protection are the non-pharmaceuticals but you will become most vulnerable as we move to fully reopen the economy and country.
We began our vaccination rollout on February 22nd this year and in just ten months we have made significant progress and for this, our citizens and residents should be proud. The vast majority of us have done the right thing to protect themselves.
We became the first country in the sub-region to reach the World Health Organization (WHO) minimum threshold of 40 percent of its population fully vaccinated.
At the close of clinic today Tuesday 23rd November, the Federation has 79.7 percent of our adult population having taken their first shot and 73.2 percent fully vaccinated. We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the region.
If we disaggregate the numbers between the two islands we see that on St. Kitts 84 percent of adults have received at least one shot and 76.2 percent fully vaccinated. On Nevis 67.8 percent of adults have received one shot and 64.6 percent are fully vaccinated. I will like to see even more persons on Nevis becoming vaccinated. My hope for St Kitts too is that we push further to achieve near 100 percent.
More work needs to be done as we push forward with our vaccination program to achieve an overall first dose coverage in the Federation of 80 percent among our adults.
While the Federation as a whole has made great progress without mandating vaccination as several countries have including the USA and the United Kingdom (UK), we cannot rest on our laurels.
A New Wave of The Virus Likely
As we move into December and then the Winter Season 2022, we will have a greater influx of visitors and despite our stringent entry protocols there is the possibility that the Delta variant will enter our jurisdiction as it is in wide circulation in our main source markets.
We can therefore anticipate a fourth wave but we are not helpless. We can make the 4th wave less severe, less prolonged and less deadly if all who should be vaccinated get vaccinated. That is why I am warning against complacency and encouraging every adult and every student above 12 years to get vaccinated.
I appeal to our frontline workers for example our police officers, crossing guards, nurses, fire officers, security personnel, health emergency technicians, teachers and teaching assistants to get vaccinated. I appeal also to our sportsmen and women, to protect themselves. Protect those to whom you have a duty of care.
Our health experts have advised us that achieving 80 percent coverage among adults in our Federation will give us a significant buffer to absorb more risk and therefore safely open our economy without putting a significant strain on our health system.
We can reach 80 percent if you come out in your numbers and get vaccinated. We are almost there. It is within reach.
If we achieve this major milestone in our vaccination coverage we can see the following:
- The barriers at Port Zante being removed. The barriers are erected principally to protect our citizens and residents. The high vaccination coverage will provide an immunity barrier against COVID-19 instead of the physical fencing barrier.
Port Zante then will become accessible to all. Security officials will ensure compliance with mask wearing and other non-pharmaceutical measures. Restaurants, businesses, outlets, and offices must enforce the protocols. The removal of the barriers will allow greater business activity and wider access to goods and services to all at Port Zante. More businesses will share in the increasing commercial activity. This will lead to more job opportunities.
- All vaccinated tourists arriving whether by cruise or air can then have access to COVID-19 approved sites like Brimstone Hill, Caribelle Batik, Black Rocks, etc.
- Entertainers will be able undertake mass events for fully vaccinated persons with 75 percent space capacity.
- A Negative PCR test will remain the standard for persons to enter the Federation but we can see the removal of all quarantine and testing requirements for arriving passengers 12 years and over who are fully vaccinated. This will be a significant economic development as the vaccinated visitors will have the ability to integrate immediately in our community.
- We will be able to reduce the quarantine period for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated persons from 14 days to 9 days. This measure will assist our elderly citizens to return home, undergo a shorter quarantine period while at the same time reduce the risk to our people. In other words, we are moving in a phased way to relax restrictions as we achieve higher levels of vaccination.
Reaching the 80 percent adult population immunity coverage will allow us to ease more of the entry restrictions and improve our competitiveness as a tourist destination. The results will be even higher arrivals, more jobs for our people, higher incomes, and more opportunities.
We are recognized as a model country in our careful response to COVID-19, making hard decisions when needed to save lives, protecting our people and easing restrictions in a responsible way to put our economy back on track. We are doing the right things at the right time and in the right way. We are taking a comprehensive view of our situation and following the science and data. We have consistently acted responsibly. Let’s work together in Unity to consolidate and expand our gains in this difficult fight against COVID-19.
Our Construction sector is receiving a boost as Ramada continues work on phase 2 of their 300 room residential facility. Housing projects soon to be started such as those by Daniel and Associates and other nationals will spur job creation in the construction sector, but more men and women at work thereby driving further economic activity in our country.
Other significant projects being undertaken include Plaza II of the Royal St Kitts Hotel (Jack Tar), the TDC Dewars Residential Project, and the Hillsborough Suites. These are progressing well.
Tonight I am joined by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Hazel, Laws, Ms Racquel Brown, CEO of the Tourism Authority, and Superintendent of Police, Mr. Cromwell Henry.