Puerto Rico authorities will begin vaccinating people 16 years of age and older against COVID-19 starting April 12, Governor Pedro Pierluisi announced Wednesday, sparking celebrations amid a spike in cases on the island. .
Currently, only people aged 50 and over and all those aged 35-49 with chronic diseases are eligible to be inoculated. Since the vaccination campaign began in December, more than one million doses have been applied to the island of 3.2 million people.
“We continue to face a terrible pandemic, along with the entire world, and its consequences have been enormous,” said Pierluisi.
During his first state of the territory address, the governor also announced that he would implement stricter measures to combat a recent spike in COVID-19 infections. The curfew that has been in effect for more than a year was expanded once again and will operate from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Friday. In addition, businesses must close at 9 p.m., two hours earlier than currently allowed.
“Unfortunately, as in many other jurisdictions, we are seeing a dangerous spike in COVID cases that has caused a spike in hospitalizations and deaths,” the governor said.
Pierluisi also announced that his government would allocate $ 20 million to establish a genomic surveillance program in the island’s Health Department to help officials monitor variants and possible mutations of the coronavirus. He also said that he will set aside $ 1.5 million for the creation of a digital vaccination certificate, making it clear that personal information would be protected. At the moment there were no more details about the digital certificate proposal.
Puerto Rico reports more than 199,000 confirmed and suspected cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
Pierluisi praised the United States government for treating Puerto Rico fairly by announcing that the island will receive millions of additional dollars in federal funds to help those affected by the pandemic.
At least $ 50 million would go to the bar and restaurant sector, which has been hit hard by current restrictions to fight the coronavirus. Bars in Puerto Rico have been closed for more than a year. Another 50 million would go to help private clinics and hospitals, and a similar amount would be set aside for farm workers.
Pierluisi also announced that $ 250 million would be distributed as part of a special payment to emergency workers, nurses, medical technicians and other health sector employees who have put their lives at risk.
During his nearly hour-long speech, Pierluisi made several more commitments, including improvements to potable water service in needy communities and the construction of a new hospital on the island of Vieques after Hurricane Maria in 2017 caused severe damage to the old hospital. , which remains closed.
Legislators from the main opposition party, the Popular Democratic Party, rejected these commitments, highlighting that Puerto Rico has been mired in a deep economic crisis for more than a decade and that the situation has worsened with the passage of hurricanes, a series of recent earthquakes. and the scourge of the pandemic at a time when it tries to restructure a portion of its public debt, which exceeds 70,000 million dollars.
“He offered a message of dreams while the country lives a nightmare,” said José Luis Dalmau, president of the Senate of Puerto Rico.
Pierluisi also stressed that he would not cancel a contract to privatize the transmission and distribution of electric power, which is currently run by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The contract has been criticized due to concerns about what will happen to the thousands of government employees who work at the agency.
Representative Rafael Hernández, also from the Popular Democratic Party, expressed disappointment with the announcement and said he hopes the governor will postpone the contract to allow for a more in-depth study.