The governor of Puerto Rico announced on Wednesday that officials will begin vaccinating every 16 years and older from Monday, sparking celebrations in a U.S. territory facing a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Currently, only people 50 years of age and older as well as people 35 to 49 years of age with chronic health conditions are allowed to receive a vaccine. More than a million vaccines have been administered since vaccinations began on the 3.2 million island in December.
“We continue to face a terrible pandemic, with the whole world, and its consequences have been enormous,” said Governor Pedro Pierluisi.
During his first State of the Territory address, Pierluisi also announced that he would implement tougher measures to tackle a recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases. A curfew that has been in place for over a year has been further expanded and will operate from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. effective Friday. In addition, businesses will be forced to close at 9 p.m., two hours earlier than what is currently permitted.
“Unfortunately, like in many other jurisdictions, we are seeing a dangerous spike in COVID cases which has caused an increase in hospitalizations and deaths,” he said.
Pierluisi also announced that his administration will allocate $ 20 million to set up a genomics monitoring program in the island’s health department to help officials monitor coronavirus variants and possible mutations. He also said he would also set aside $ 1.5 million to create a digital passport for vaccines, adding that people’s personal information would be protected. Details of the proposed passport were not immediately available.
The upcoming changes come as Puerto Rico reports more than 199,000 confirmed and suspected cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
Pierluisi praised the U.S. government for treating Puerto Rico fairly by announcing that the island should receive millions of additional dollars in federal funds to help those affected by the pandemic.
At least $ 50 million would go to the restaurant and bar industry, which has been hit hard by ongoing restrictions to fight the coronavirus. Bars in Puerto Rico have not been allowed to reopen for over a year. Another $ 50 million would go to help private clinics and hospitals, and the same amount would go to farm workers.
Pierluisi also announced that $ 250 million will be distributed as part of a special payment to first responders, nurses, medical technicians and other healthcare workers who have put their lives at risk.
During his approximately hour-long speech, Pierluisi made many other promises, including obtaining statehood for Puerto Rico, improving drinking water service for needy communities, and building new ones. a new hospital on the nearby island of Vieques after Hurricane Maria in 2017 damaged the old one, which remains closed. .
These promises were rejected by lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic People’s Party, who noted that Puerto Rico had been in a severe economic crisis for more than a decade and made worse by hurricanes, a series of recent earthquakes and the pandemic as it attempts to do so. restructure part of its public debt of more than $ 70 billion.
“He delivered a dream message as the island experiences 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 electricity currently managed by the Electric Power Authority of Puerto Rico. The contract came under increasing scrutiny amid concerns, including what would happen to the thousands of government employees who work there.
Puerto Rican representative Rafael Hernández, also from the opposition People’s Democratic Party, said he was disappointed with the statement and said he had hoped the governor would postpone the contract for further study.