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Education fumbles again; Minister recommends vaccine to help get children back in school

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#TurksandCaicos, February 3, 2021 – People know the times are challenging; plans, no matter how thoroughly constructed are crumbling in the face of the unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic.  What residents are hard- pressed to grasp however, is the lack of communication from the Turks and Caicos Ministry of Education.

For the fourth time, the Ministry has fallen short when it comes to communicating in a timely manner with the nation about decisions related to school and the return to in person learning.

These benchmark moments include the start of the 2020-2021 Academic year; the review of the start which was promised in time for October 2020; the New Year term in January and a review of this second term and the way forward, which never came until Sunday January 31, mere hours before students were expecting to return to their various campuses.

“As a result of the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases, phase 5 of the Roadmap anticipated on January 4th had to be deferred at least until 29th January when the situation would be reassessed to determine the feasibility of reopening schools for in class instruction,” said the Ministry of Education in the selectively released statement.

Karen Malcolm, Turks and Caicos Islands Minister of Education, Youth, Culture, Social and Library Services was on Monday taking her second jab of the Covid-19 vaccine; following the shot she said:

“Parents get vaccinated. We need to get back to normal, some sort of normalcy so we can get our children back in school.”

No national address on radio or television.  No message of encouragement for students who are suffering severe emotional distress and confusion during this unprecedented season.  A missed opportunity to convey warmth, empathy, support and appreciation to the thousands of residents impacted by the otherwise expected decision.

The mute is maddening, but the Sunday statement explained:

“During this interim period, we have experienced further elevations to the rate of infection in the Turks and Caicos Islands, having realized our largest number of confirmed new cases this week. Considering the health factors, the Ministry of Education, in consultation with the Ministry of Health, has arrived at the following decisions: 

Effective 1st February, all schools will continue with online learning only. This position will be re-evaluated by 10th February, 2021.  Students of 4th and 5th forms are allowed on campus only for SBAs and other practical assessments, external examinations and mock examinations.  The Ministry will provide a subsequent update on the implementation of Phase 5 of the Road-map and plans for the final school term.”

During a press conference, Edwin Astwood, the Minister of Health clued the nation in to what was coming.  No return to school for any student unless their external exam requirements or preparation requires them to be onsite.

The Health Minister also agreed teachers, who opted to have the vaccine, should get the shots.  That option may be off the table for now, as the first batch of 9,750 doses has now been exhausted.

The littlest learners have been allowed into schools, whose sites are approved by the Ministry of Health.  Far more kindergartens and daycare centres are open for service.

At least two schools had been affected by COVID in the first semester of the academic year, informed the Ministry of Health.  The high school in South Caicos and an unidentified school in Providenciales were closed for sanitization when a Covid-positive case(s) was linked to the institutions.   

The Ministry described the term as successful.

“After achieving a successful transition from phase 1-3 of the Road-map for the Reopening of schools, the Ministry of Education adopted a modified version of phase 4 which saw only grades 5 and 6 students return to in class instructions. Meanwhile, students of forms 5 and 6 continued in class tutelage while all other students participating virtually in a blended scheme.”

In the past two days, there has been little testing and no new cases.  By February 10, which is when business hours and curfew regulations expire, the country will get direction on what is next for schools and the over 4,300 students.

“We appreciate the level of understanding by teachers and parents as we navigate through these challenging times,” said the Ministry it its press release.

TCI swimmers get swabbed

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Storm Troubles as September heats up late

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By Sherrica Thompson

Staff Writer

 

September 27, 2022 – Hurricane Ian moved near the Cayman Islands and was forecast to intensify rapidly and hit Cuba as a major hurricane late on Monday and then strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico before striking the west central coast of Florida on Wednesday.

Now millions in Tampa Bay, Florida are bracing for impact after a hundred year absence of any major storm.

So far, authorities in Cuba have suspended classes in Pinar del Rio province and planned evacuations on Monday as Ian gained strength and approach Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa. Cuba was also shutting down its train system ahead of the worst weather.

Senior Specialist at the United States National Hurricane Center Daniel Brown told The Associated Press early Monday that “Cuba is expecting extreme hurricane force winds, life-threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall.”

In the Cayman Islands, members of the government and opposition were working together to ensure that people were made as safe as possible and provided with supplies, plywood, and in some cases sandbags so that they could safely weather the storm, according to Premier Wayne Panton in a video on Sunday.

As of Monday, September 26, most of the customers on the island of Bermuda have received power with just about 200 properties still without electricity.

Last week Hurricane Fiona brought heavy rain and strong winds to the island causing about 29,000 customers, more than 80 per cent of the island’s sole power provider, Bermuda Electric Light Company to be without electricity on Friday morning.

The island has also started its restoration process and announced that it has reopened for business.

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, more than a million people in the two countries are still without power and running water after the passing of Hurricane Fiona over the Islands last week.

A growing number of businesses in Puerto Rico, including grocery stores and gas stations, are temporarily closing across the territory as the outages drag on, sparking concern about the availability of fuel and basic goods.

As of Saturday, at least 16 people had died because of Hurricane Fiona, according to Puerto Rico’s Department of Health, which is tracking hurricane-related deaths on the island.

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Utility, Telecoms Companies Prepared for Peak of Atlantic Hurricane Season

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#Kingston, Jamaica, September 27, 2022 – As activity in the tropical Atlantic intensifies, the island’s major utility companies have indicated their preparedness for severe weather conditions.

Hon. Desmond McKenzie

Jamaica Public Service (JPS) Senior Manager, George Kates, said that the company has invested heavily in its disaster-preparedness plans, which were continually developed using many years of lessons.  He said that critical staff and third-party contractors are mobilised and emergency operation centres throughout the island are ready to be activated, when needed.

Additionally, he indicated that in disaster, the JPS maintains contact with the security forces and the National Works Agency (NWA), “because we can recover as fast as they allow us because they have to be ahead of us to clear roads and make way for our team to move”.

“I can comfortably say that the JPS is in an advanced stage of readiness. We are ready to respond to any eventualities,” Mr. Kates assured.

He was addressing a special committee meeting of the National Disaster Risk Council at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in Kingston on Friday (September 23).

During the meeting, which was convened by Portfolio Minister, Hon. Desmond McKenzie, key private and public-sector entities outlined their state-of-readiness for Tropical Depression Nine, which strengthened into Tropical Storm Ian.

While the country was spared the worst effects of the system, it has since developed into a major hurricane and is expected to impact Cuba and Florida.

National Water Commission (NWC) Chairman, Mark Barnett, in noting the entity’s readiness, said that measures have been put in place to prepare for adverse weather conditions.  He noted that key townships across the island have been equipped with standby generators and that all NWC facilities in deep rural or urban areas will continue to operate “as long as it is safe to do so”.

He pointed out, however, that where the weather becomes severe, some facilities may experience disruptions or may be forced to shut down, especially those that rely heavily on reasonable quality water flow from rivers.

“We are making strides to ensure that we have the necessary infrastructure and necessary capacity in place for responsiveness, knowing very well that we are a [small] island state and we are subject to these events,” Mr. Barnett said.

“All in all, we feel pretty comfortable in terms of our preparedness,” he noted.

As it relates to telecommunications, the island’s two main providers also told the committee meeting that they are ready to face a disaster if one strikes.

FLOW’s Senior Compliance Manager, Keniesha Brown Plunkett, outlined that the company has put 12 disaster plans in place, which allows for response to situations in a timely manner.  She said that using lessons from the past, FLOW has actively trained its coordinators to respond to certain protocols and has identified key personnel in each parish, with the regional crisis management team also on standby if the local team requires assistance.

“We have tested our satellite phones that we have in stock and we’re also happy to say that we are supporting the national disaster programme. We have contributed to vests, we have sourced signs, and we [have helped to] ensure that shelter management programmes are up and running,” Mrs. Brown Plunkett noted.

Some of the challenges experienced by the company that may affect its disaster response include the theft of infrastructure, which includes batteries and copper wires, and damage outside the plant network caused by motor-vehicle accidents.

To mitigate these, the company has activated monitoring and tracking on its devices, sensitised communities to monitor any irregularities, and has undertaken routine assessments. There’s also an environmental management programme in place to manage hazardous waste, said Mrs. Brown Plunkett.  Furthermore, the company’s corporate communications team actively monitors and sends out alerts to the public, in the event of a weather system.

Head of Public Relations, Elon Parkinson, for his part, told the committee meeting that the company had activated its emergency management team to ensure full internal coordination.

“That includes our technical team that ensures that our sites are ready, that our facilities are topped up with fuel, that we have double-checked batteries to ensure complete reliance, that we have coordinated with our partners to make sure that they, too, are ready, that we establish lines of communication around the emergency messages,” Mr. Parkinson said.

He noted that the company had assured its business customers of the lines of communication and the strategies it will be undertaking, to maintain business continuity.

Additionally, the company had activated its social media pages to be used as a ‘community hub’ for information and to convey updates from the Government.

“As we do, we are supporting the overall government of Jamaica’s command and control communication efforts, and those efforts are going to be critical to getting Jamaica back on its feet again [in the event of severe weather],” he said.

The Atlantic Hurricane season runs annually from June 1 to November 30. Mid-August to about mid-October is considered to be the peak of the season when, statistically, the tropical Atlantic becomes the most active, and experiences the most dangerous storms.

 

Contact: Mickella Anderson

Release: JIS

Photo Captions:

Donald De La Haye photos

 

1st insert: Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hon. Desmond McKenzie, addresses a special committee meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council at the Ministry’s office in Kingston on Friday (September 23).

2nd insert: National Water Commission (NWC), Chairman, Mark Barnett, addresses a special committee meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in Kingston on Friday (September 23).

3rd insert: FLOW’s Senior Compliance Manager, Keniesha Brown Plunkett, outlines the company’s disaster preparation plans during a special committee meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council on Friday (September 23) at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in Kingston.

4th insert: Digicel’s Head of Public Relations, Elon Parkinson, discusses the company’s disaster preparation strategies during a special committee meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development’s Hagley Park Road headquarters on Friday (September 23).

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New Firearms Act Passed in The Senate

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#Kingston, Jamaica, September 27, 2022 – The Senate on Friday (September 23) passed the new Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act with 17 amendments.

The legislation establishes a dual regime, distinguishing between prohibited weapons or unregulated firearms and activities connected thereto, and firearms that are duly authorised or registered.

The Bill also outlines the objectives that speak to establishing a framework that prohibits firearms and ammunition that are illicitly traded, and which regards possession of those prohibited firearms and ammunition as the foundation on which other heinous and violent crimes are committed.

Closing the debate, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator the Hon. Matthew Samuda said the Bill will issue punishment, in proportionate to the crime.

“For those that have been caught the penalty did not match the crime and this Bill deals with that issue,” he said.

He also noted that the legislation, and its amendments address the strengthening of the operational issues such as those made to clause 101 which speaks to trial, punishment, proof, and records.

In addition, under the new legislation, the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) will be established as a body corporate.

As a body corporate, the Authority will have its own legal identity and will now be empowered to perform several activities, to include entering into contracts in its own name, initiating and responding to legal claims, acquiring real and personal property, and using its own official seal.

The legislation will go back to the House of Representatives for its approval.

 

Contact: Rochelle Williams

Release: JIS

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