ALL eyes and ears will be tuned in to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley today as he hosts his first news conference for the year.
Having lifted the ban on open-pyre cremation of Covid-19 victims, the big question still to be answered is whether the Government is proceeding with its vaccination policy requiring public servants to be vaccinated by mid-January, which is now, or workers face being sent home without pay.
The news conference will be held at 2.30 p.m. at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.
The last time Rowley held a Covid-related news conference was on December 18, 2021, when he announced the Government’s intention to roll out a vaccination policy from mid-January.
Rowley had said that this was not a mandatory vaccine policy as public sector workers have a choice to take the vaccine or not, and if they choose not to, they would be furloughed.
Since then, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has held meetings with the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the protective services which resulted in a stalemate.
There has been a strong pushback from the trade unions over the past four weeks. Up to yesterday, JTUM head Ancel Roget reiterated that the Government must withdraw its position and take the mid-January deadline off the table.
Since the Prime Minister last spoke, there has been an uptick in the number of public servants getting vaccinated, in particular, the health sector, but the exact figures have not been given.
On December 31, 2021, Public Administration Ministry acting permanent secretary (PS) Claudelle McKellar issued a circular memorandum to all permanent secretaries and heads of departments, saying that from January 17, the operations of organisations within the public sector (ministries, departments, agencies, authorities, corporations and companies) are to be conducted only by employees who have provided proof of being vaccinated or employees who have received the appropriate vaccination exemption.
The memorandum urged all permanent secretaries and heads of departments to encourage their staff to be vaccinated.
The memorandum said that from January 5, 2022, the Public Administration Ministry, together with the Health Ministry, would have rolled out a vaccination programme for employees in the Public Service.
There have been special designated vaccination sites for public servants, and various public institutions have held drives to get their workforce vaccinated.
High death rate questioned
At the Parliament sitting yesterday, the question of Government’s vaccination policy was raised by Opposition MP Dr Rishad Seecheran, who asked if it would be implemented on January 17.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the Prime Minister “will address this issue in the shortest possible space of time”.
Opposition MP Rudranath Indarsingh asked if unvaccinated employees will be locked out from their respective workplaces effective Monday, to which Deyalsingh responded that the question does not arise at this time.
Indarsingh asked if the circular from the Public Administration Ministry will be revoked, and Deyalsingh said the matter will be dealt with by the appropriate minister as it is not a matter for him.
Opposition MP Rodney Charles asked the minister to provide the reasons for this country’s high Covid-19 mortality figures, given its position on the Worldometer global database.
Deyalsingh responded: “High is a relative term. We are currently 30 out of a 190 countries, so there are 160 countries below us.
“What we do is calculate our case fatality ratio (CFR), which is the number of deaths over the number of positive cases,” he said.
“In phase one when we had eight deaths, our CFR was 6.2. That later dropped to 1,” he said, adding that the numbers are skewed. “At this point in time, at the highest peak in the pandemic, our case fatality ratio is around three. The global average is between two and three,” he said.
Deyalsingh said the ministry is looking at hospital care versus home care, and reiterated that T&T’s case fatality ratio is within the global average.
Seecheran noted that between December 15 and 28, 2021, Johns Hopkins University has shown that this country has been in the top spot globally in daily confirmed deaths per million and asked if this data was correct.
“Yes, and we have addressed that very often. There are different measures that different bodies use,” Deyalsingh said, adding that what T&T uses is the case fatality ratio.