Pushing hard to persuade enough citizens to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, some Caribbean governments are facing serious pushback from organized citizens groups, with fairly large numbers of citizens taking to the streets in protests demanding their right to choose whether to take the jab or not.
On Sunday, police in tourist paradise Antigua, fired tear gas canisters at protestors who were railing against a government decision to immunize frontline workers from the COVID-19 virus, but authorities would have none of it and moved to break up the demonstration in the city.
The so-called Freedom Fighters for Antigua and Barbuda had organized the protests to make their views known, even after local police had denied their application for a legal demonstration at the weekend. The civic group said police had deliberately tried to sabotage the event by responding late on Friday with a rejection of their application for permission, noting that “it was a calculated and deliberate act by the police commissioner since he knew that his decision can be appealed to the minister responsible for the police and even reviewed by the high court of justice.”
The use of tear gas by police came about days after Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent,74, was airlifted to hospital in neighboring Barbados after being hit by a rock thrown by demonstrators during an anti-vaccine protest on the island. Bleeding profusely, Gonsalves received emergency treatment for a concussion injury to the head. He is to be monitored for the next month. The protests there were regarded as the most serious in the 15-nation grouping. This is even as some countries like Trinidad and Jamaica are struggling to acquire enough vaccines to immunize citizens while others like Guyana, Barbados and most of the smaller Eastern Caribbean sub grouping are pushing for herd immunity, even as authorities are frustrated by growing vaccine hesitancy. Gonsalves was on his way to parliament to amend emergency health laws when he was hit by the rock. Police say they have arrested the main suspect.
In Barbados meanwhile, about 2,000 people took to the streets at the weekend with similar concerns to counterparts in Antigua and St. Vincent. Police there were also forced to break up the demonstration without any serious violence amid fears that the relatively large gathering could have served as a super spreader event.
Dressed in white, members of the Barbados Concerned Citizens grouping, comprising representatives from the business community, churches and grassroots organizations, marched in downtown Bridgetown, the capital, shouting anti-government slogans. The group has promised to organize similar protests in the coming days.
Authorities are examining legal possibilities regarding mandatory vaccinations as well as mandatory testing. Attorney General Dale Marshal is to give cabinet a legal opinion on this issue shortly.
Down south in Guyana, Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon has asked for an urgent parliamentary debate on what he says are coercive efforts to introduce a mandatory vaccination of citizens. He is also railing against various measures by authorities to limit access to state facilities and other places to unvaccinated citizens. He referred to these measures as severely hampering the ability of citizens to conduct business.
“The nation needs a clear sense of what is happening, what the plan is and to see political, religious and civic leaders working in tandem. The opposition is once again saying that it is ready, willing and able to be engaged and believes that churches and other civil society stakeholders should be given a voice in the process as well,” Harmon said.
Among measures recently implemented to combat the pandemic is a rule allowing only persons with at least one vaccine to enter the country.