Tobago’s low vaccination rate has disappointed Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who says the island’s small population could easily have been vaccinated and Tobago could have then marketed itself as a safe zone for business.
Rowley reinforced the need for vaccinations, including noting a new COVID variant was identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday in the UK.
He said he had hoped by the time Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections arrive, “We wouldn’t be where we are now.’’
Dr Rowley said he was concerned about Tobago and “very disappointed” at the threat to the island, from the standpoint that it lacks large numbers of medical personnel, hospitals and beds to cope with a dangerous heavy COVID outbreak. He said reports are being received that its hospital system is under threat.
People’s lack of interest in using the vaccine’s protection indicated to him that Tobagonians need to pay attention to their safety.
“I’m asking you to cooperate with our vaccine programme,” he said during a media conference following a three-day Cabinet retreat.
He said he knew there are “leaders in Tobago carrying on conversations encouraging you not to co-operate.”
He said it was people’s right to listen to them and make decisions. But if those rights also lead them to “a place where sufficient healthcare’s not available, you’re playing with your life.”
As the population is being increasingly vaccinated, he said seabridge capacity will be increased from 50 to 75 per cent. Caribbean Airlines will be asked to increase capacity by a flight or two.
But he noted a larger flow will be opened up to Tobago where there’s vaccine hesitancy.
Noting Tobago always had vaccines, he said it had been expected the 45,000 population could have easily been vaccinated, but noted the population was saying they weren’t interested in that.
He said he hoped it wouldn’t apply to students and the wider public would come around to understanding T&T has nothing else to protect it against COVID but the vaccines and health protocols.
Rowley didn’t agree that lack of information caused the situation. He felt it was information causing people to get vaccinated or not and many got unreliable or bogus information with greater reach due to technology.
He said he expects the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) will get the information out.
Currently, T&T’s situation shows the vaccinated population wasn’t adding significant numbers to the count of those hospitalised and those who die.
Rowley said he trusted Tobagonians will move T&T’s vaccine rate from where it is to where it should be. With Government’s plan to open up “safe zone” businesses in a month, if vaccinations continued with increased uptake, he said, “I trust between now and month-end, enough Tobagonians can move the vaccination position from where it’s too low to comfortably high.”
On THA polls, he noted there was a general election with the vaccination rate at certain levels and that was done without too much trouble, though some got ill.
He didn’t think a low vaccination rate would stop THA polls but said it would help if a vaccinated population would be participating.
He said he expects that the Election and Boundaries Commission wouldn’t be too far off from laying their report on Tobago’s seats in Parliament, since they had done work for January’s election. Rowley said he hoped when he returns to Tobago, he can report it as fully vaccinated and a safe zone.