My fellow citizens and residents, COVID-19 remains the greatest challenge to our country, region and world at this time. Let me reiterate and reemphasize the critical need for all of us to become fully engaged in this fight against COVID-19. It is no exaggeration to say that we are indeed literally in a fight for our lives and livelihoods. The increasing number of deaths around the world should be a reminder to us that COVID-19 kills and we should protect ourselves. The most critical tool in this regard is for each of us to get vaccinated now. Individuals who are vaccinated are unlikely to suffer the worst effects of COVID-19. Around the world, the majority of persons dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Unfortunately, the Federation has now reported our 12th death from COVID-19 and my thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time.
My government has sought to give our people every tool and every advantage. It becomes the responsibility of every citizen and resident now, to use them at every opportunity. We have been and are in a privileged position in St. Kitts and Nevis to not only have a choice of safe vaccines, but sufficient quantities to inoculate everyone 12 years and over.
The majority of our adult population has taken the vaccine to protect themselves, their families and our country. I am advised that some 75.6 percent of our adult population have taken their first dose of the vaccine and 66.7 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated. I am informed that 7.2 percent of the children ages 12-17 years have taken the first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. We credit this to having an informed, educated and discerning populace, who understands that vaccination is our best defense against COVID-19, and our fastest route back to normalcy.
Just next door in Antigua and Barbuda, the government issued a mandate to get its people vaccinated. Guyana has also mandated vaccination. And while the Government has not yet been inclined to mandate vaccination, I strongly urge and encourage every citizen and resident, to get vaccinated. We need all hands-on deck. Too much is at stake. The quality of our lives and security of our livelihoods depend on it. The safe and full reopening of our country depends on it. Our successful return to a vibrant tourism industry depends on it. The jobs of our taximen, and thousands of workers in hospitality and tourism depend on it.
More and more measures are being taken around the world in just about every country for the protection of its citizens. The United States of America is now requiring proof of vaccination for entry into its ports. This new requirement starts in November. Canada already has this requirement and other countries are sure to follow. Universities are also requiring proof of vaccination. We should heed what is happening elsewhere.
Companies all over the world are making vaccination a requirement for a safe workplace. Choices are being made for the protection of staff, customers, businesses and institutions. We too have choices to make. We too must consider, and make choices for our own protection, and the protection of those around us. We have seen the fluid nature of this virus. What we know for certain is that the higher the percentage of persons vaccinated the safer our shared space.
Many persons are rightly concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on our schools and the disruption to family life and work organization as parents are called upon to monitor their children at home.
Our children are our future. For them to play a constructive role we must ensure that our actions or lack thereof do not deny them in-classroom learning opportunities. The right choice is for all to get vaccinated but more so for parents, adults, teachers and all who work in our schools, health facilities and our security forces to get vaccinated without further delay. It is the responsible thing to do.
We cannot forever remain in a semi-bubble. The country has to open up fully at some point to business, to students, to tourists, to investors. Tourists will again walk our shores. Ironically, the greatest threat of COVID-19 infection comes not from in-coming travelers, but the persons closest to us: our families, our friends; our colleagues and coworkers. These are the people around whom we often fail to wear our masks, hand sanitize or social distance. And for those reasons, it is to them we owe, and hold that sense of responsibility to protect them and to protect ourselves. Vaccination is the best protection for us and it is the best manifestation of that responsibility and commitment. Get vaccinated today. Two COVID-19 vaccines are currently available – Pfizer BioNTech and the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine. The health centers are now accepting walk-ins for either of these vaccines.
The direct cost to the Health system to contain COVID-19 and prevent our Health system from being overwhelmed, has been high. The Federal government has spent $18.4 million since March 2020 to procure equipment, additional manpower, including the cost of Cuban and Filipino medical brigades, other physicians and specialist support, pharmaceuticals particularly vaccines.
Funds were also spent to procure vehicles, retrofit wards and health centres, to rent quarantine facilities and to provide testing support. An additional $5 million is expected to be spent by year end bringing the total cost of COVID-19 related expenditure by the Health Ministry to over $23 million.
We have also spent millions of dollars to make our early child care facilities and schools fit for purpose. We have spent $1.3 million to enhance our national security system, recruiting quarantine officers etc for the islands of Nevis and St. Kitts. Additionally, the Federal government spent $2.7million to retrofit and upgrade the R.L.B International Airport to protect all employees, visitors and indeed all who use the facility.
My government has at the fulcrum of its 4 pronged strategy to fight COVID-19 a life first strategy. I mourn with those who have lost loved ones owing to COVID-19. I reiterate that the loss of one life to COVID-19 is one too many. The power is with us to defeat COVID-19. We empower ourselves by utilizing all the tools including the precious vaccines. Let me take this opportunity to commend our hard working health care workers.
The Way Forward
As we learn to live with the virus, our objectives are:
1. To have 80 percent of our population inoculated with at least their first dose by the end of November.
2. To achieve 70 percent of the target adult population being fully vaccinated.
3. To have over 80 percent of our students between the ages of 12-17 years vaccinated by December 31, 2021. With such high vaccination coverage we will be able to prevent future disruptions in our schools and country.
4. Conduct more focused contact tracing such that the results can be obtained in a more timely manner and the laboratory system does not become overwhelmed.
5. Reduce the quarantine period for fully vaccinated in-bound passengers.
We will continue to strengthen our health system.
1. We anticipate that in October 2021 we will receive and commission a field Hospital with a capacity of at least 40 beds. These will provide a further buffer for the health system in our efforts to care for those infected by COVID-19, and in the event of any serious natural or manmade disaster.
2. Provide tax waivers and tax holidays for persons involved in providing specialized health services.
Our success in containing and reducing COVID-19 is the key determinant on how quickly we can get our economy on track and put more of our people to work. Work is important to us, that is why my administration presided over the highest level of employment in our country. By end of 2019, the Social Security Board recorded 28,930 contributors, one of the highest in history. We have to put the country back to work again by providing opportunities for businesses to create jobs and our people to earn incomes. The critical economic drivers offer opportunities for our people in the areas of – Agriculture, Tourism, Manufacturing and Construction.
Agriculture and Fisheries
Our farmers and fishers continue to deliver on their mandate to feed our nation, and generate foreign exchange savings as more is being produced here. For the period January to August 2021, fish landings were 509,700 pounds, with a landed value of $5.7 million. This represents a 23 percent increase in output over the comparative period in 2020. Our Department of Marine Resources is reporting that as at end of August, we had 1,294 registered fishers, an increase of 81 over the 1,213 fishers at this point in 2020. I must encourage our fishers to register as self-employed persons with Social Security. Social Security protects all workers at their times of vulnerability including providing a pension in their old age.
The manufacturing sector has been resilient. It has created direct employment for over 1,200 persons. JARO Limited is the largest employer with 253 employees, followed by Carib Brewery with 160 employees, Kajola Kristada 157 employees and HAROWE SERVO 122 employees. All these entities are part of our manufacturing export enclave sector and is contributing to our GDP in real terms in spite of COVID-19 challenges.
Our tourism sector has been severely affected by COVID-19. We continue our efforts to market our destination and are optimistic regarding tourist arrivals for 2022.
The Construction Sector continues to provide increased employment opportunities. With a number of capital projects ongoing and the implementation of a new middle housing project at Cayon, we expect even more persons to find employment. Private sector housing projects are to begin in the near future at Douglas Estate, St. Peters, Cunnigham, Cayon, and Bourryeau.
Second Stimulus Package
The Income Support component of our stimulus package has been helpful to many persons who have lost their jobs. Job losses were significant in tourism, manufacturing, and construction as a result of the pandemic. So far, my government has paid out $4.6 million to over 2,000 successful applicants. A third tranche of payments will be made in October 2021. To ensure the largest number of persons benefit, any claim initially disapproved will go through a second round of vetting to ensure no deserving applicant is denied. This is the hallmark of a caring and compassionate government and testament to our efforts to ensure that no one is left behind.
Cheques will be processed monthly until every qualified applicant receives his/her payments (a maximum of 3 tranches). Payments will cease once the applicant is restored to employment.
Our Fuel Subsidy Programme has so far paid out $81,600 to bus operators. Our Disability Support has benefited 142 families, the total payout to date under this programme is $163,500 including $15,000 in support to Ade’s Place at Greenlands.
Our stimulus support to the agriculture sector continues. On Monday a special containerized truck costing $181,000 was handed over to the Abattoir. This will assist farmers in preserving the quality of their meats and offer healthier products for consumption by our citizens, residents and visitors.
On Monday the Treasury processed PAP payments for September totaling $2.7 million, bringing the total payment for the year to date to $24.1 million. It is truly remarkable, that in times of hardship everywhere, our people can count on my government to provide some measure of support.
My Government will continue to do the best we can to support our citizens and residents particularly the vulnerable, elderly and the very young.