Dr Amery Browne, Minister of Foreign of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, Her Excellency Frances Seignoret, Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to CARICOM and Anesa Doodnath-Siboo, Principal Pharmacist (Ag.), Ministry of Health at Piarco International Airport for the arrival of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines donated by the Government of Bermuda, yesterday.

Next stop on the COVID vaccine hunt—Government will be seeking vaccines from the European Union.

And the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA is expanding to try to do surveillance testing for COVID-19 virus variants across the population ahead.

Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis spoke about sourcing EU vaccines, responding to Opposition query during yesterday’s Parliament sitting.

Robinson–Regis replied on last Friday’s statements by the European Union (EU) Health Commissioner that the EU is developing a mechanism to facilitate the sharing of surplus COVID-19 vaccines with developing countries.

She said T&T is following up with the EU to advocate for a portion of these vaccines. Communication will be sent by correspondence from the Prime Minister and via T&T’s Ambassador to the EU.

Robinson-Regis said the Foreign Affairs Minister was also engaging with the EU for access to their stock of vaccine even prior to last Friday announcements. He previously met the EU delegation in T&T and had talks on equitable access to vaccines for T&T and for Caricom.

The EU joins other potential vaccines sources on T&T’s list.

T&T has obtained from Barbados, COVAX, India, China, St Vincent, Bermuda and has been hopeful for vaccines from the US, African Medical Council, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson—and if Cuba’s vaccines gets approved.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, who was asked about types of variants in T&T, said only two COVID variants have been identified in T&T—the B117 (UK Variant) and P1 (Brazilian variant).

Variants are categorised as variants of interest, concern or high consequence. He couldn’t supply the number of cases for either category.

He said since December 2020, some 504 samples were tested and out of that, the two variants of concern were identified.

He said the Caribbean Public Health Agency’s process (CARPHA) tests samples mainly from repatriated people as such persons may bring in variants.

Their primary contacts particularly are also tested. Deyalsingh said CARPHA’s expanding to try to do some surveillance testing across the population. He said UWI was put in touch with Public Health England’s divisions to boost (UWI’s) capacity to test for variants whether variants of interest, concern or high consequence.

Deyalsingh rubbished as “untrue,” reports of oxygen shortage at public health locations.

He detailed oxygen amounts at Point Fortin (five 240 cubic foot cylinder), Arima (one 2,220 cubic foot cylinder giving oxygen every 90 minutes), Tobago (producing their own at Scarborough and Roxborough hospitals).

Massy Gases normally supplies 3 million standard cubic feet per month. They were asked to go up to 50 per cent reserve capacity. In the first three weeks of May, 25 per cent more oxygen was consumed than was used in April —TT$4.2 million worth of oxygen.

Works Minister Rohan Sinanan said his ministry is in talks with the Finance Ministry on whether taxi/maxi taxi operators would receive the Fuel Relief Grant.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert said it wasn’t possible to give the minimum wait time for applicants to receive payment subsequent to submission of salary relief grant applications, as the process involved document reviews, eligibility determination and if they have active bank account. If they meet all criteria, payment is three to four weeks after application.