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President of Guyana, Dr Irfaan Ali.

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Guyana’s President Mohamed Irfaan Ali is calling for the removal of vaccine discrimination for travel throughout the region.

He made the call during an address to the nation and news conference to mark his first year in office yesterday.

Guardian Media was invited to participate in the new conference.

Ali defended his country’s decision to use Sputnik V, as he said there should be no distinction in vaccinating against COVID-19.

He said the decision to use the Russian vaccine was out of both necessity and availability.

“We see no distinction in a vaccination programme. Whether it is Sputnik, Sinopharm, Pfizer, Moderna. There is no distinction for us. And in our eyes, in the vaccination programme,” President Ali said, “because we fought for Pfizer we fought for Moderna we fought for Johnson & Johnson and we could not get it. But we were able to get Sputnik. And we invested in it because lives of the people mattered.”

Sputnik’s lack of World Health Organisation (WHO) approval has meant that several countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, still place restrictions on individuals vaccinated with Sputnik V.

Those who enter Trinidad and Tobago with a Sputnik vaccine currently would have to enter quarantine like any other unvaccinated arrival to the country.

President Ali is not in agreement with this stance.

“I don’t think we should deny persons, who took these vaccines. The freedom to move within the region. I don’t think so,” he said.

Sputnik V had previously been a talking point after some Guyanese nationals reacted to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley reference to the vaccine’s lack of WHO approval while giving an update on Trinidad and Tobago’s vaccine procurement.

The Prime Minister had noted then that in Caricom, that while Guyana had received more vaccines due to their acceptance of Sputnik V, Trinidad and Tobago had received the largest amount of WHO-approved vaccines.

When asked about the state of the relationships between the countries, Ali said it remained excellent.

“Our relationship with Trinidad and Tobago has not changed. Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana has always shared a special relationship. We have always supported each other. Good times and in bad times. We have had an excellent relationship,” said the Guyanese President.

“And nothing in my government’s policy will change that. So, I can speak definitively on Guyana. But I want to assure you also that Guyana has a development pathway that we have defined. We have policies that we have pursued in relation to COVID. And those policies are to be respected,” he said.

He said while Guyana’s oil and gas sector was on the rise, his country’s intention was not to become an energy sector powerhouse but simply to create a sustainable future, not only for his country but his Caricom neighbours.

“Guyana is not aiming to become any powerhouse. We are not aiming to demonstrate or flex any muscle or power. Our only aim is to enhance the prospect of all the people of this region. So whatever resources Guyana gets from this oil and gas sector and all other sectors, I assure you will resound not only to the benefit of Guyanese but all the people of Caricom. We are one people in Caricom. There’s no distinction in my eyes between our borders,” he said.

The President said several Trinidad and Tobago investors were already present in Guyana and more were welcome.

“We are open for investment for a matter of fact. There are a lot of investors from Trinidad and Tobago. A lot of your private sector members who are here, who have already invested, who are exploring and they have all been welcome,” Ali said.

“But they’re not only welcomed in the energy sector. There are massive opportunities in the other sectors,” he said.

T&T’s vaccine entry policy

If the Guyanese President’s call for an end to vaccine discrimination in the region, Trinidad and Tobago will have to change its position regarding the entry of people into the country.

At present, all travellers are required to submit a negative Nasopharyngeal (nasal swab) RT-PCR test result taken no earlier than 72 hours prior to arrival in Trinidad and Tobago.

Non-nationals who are not fully vaccinated are not allowed entry to Trinidad and Tobago at this time.

Individuals are only considered to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 if 14 days have passed since they received the full dosage of a WHO-approved vaccine.

For two-dose COVID-19 vaccines, passengers must have received two doses of the same vaccine or the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by the second dose of the Moderna (as at July 30th 2021) or Pfizer vaccine.

Passengers with any other combination of vaccines would not be considered fully vaccinated, at this time.