The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was hospitalized after he was struck in the head by a stone during a protest against a proposed vaccine mandate, with images online showing him bloodied by the injury.
PM Ralph Gonsalves met hundreds of raucous demonstrators as he arrived at parliament on Thursday afternoon, with protesters gathering to denounce a bill that would compel Covid-19 shots for the Caribbean nation. Gonsalves’ office confirmed in a statement that he was “physically assaulted and wounded by opposition demonstrators while attempting to enter the House of Assembly.”
“Approximately 200 demonstrators, responding to a call to action from the Leader of the Opposition, picketed the parliament and blocked the entrance to the building,” it said, adding that when the PM was unable to enter parliament in his vehicle, he attempted to do so on foot.
An opposition demonstrator then hurled a projectile at the prime minister, which struck him in the head, inches above the temple. The prime minister, bleeding profusely, was taken to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital with his security detail.
Videos from the protest have also made the rounds, with Gonsalves’ security team seen escorting him away from the parliament building amid a chaotic crowd. Other clips also showed protesters elsewhere on the island, some lighting fires in the streets.
While the prime minister’s office initially said he would remain at the hospital “overnight for observation,” the country’s Finance Minister Camilo Gonsalves – the PM’s son – said he would be flown to Barbados for further treatment, according to local media reports.
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The protest was kicked off over plans to take up an amendment that would remove the word “voluntary” from a section of the country’s Public Health Act that pertains to vaccines. The move has stoked fears that officials could impose a full-on mandate amid the Covid-19 pandemic, though Gonsalves has insisted the law would only apply to certain frontline healthcare and public-sector employees.
Nonetheless, concerns over a potential mandate have triggered a number of street protests, with opposition leader Godwin Friday explaining at one demonstration last week that “We are protesting because the government does not offer any hope out of this pandemic.”
“We are protesting because the government has legislation on the books with the intention of mandating vaccination,” he continued, adding while he is personally “in favor” of the jabs, “people must do their own research and come to their own conclusion.”
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With a population just over 100,000, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has approved five different vaccines to date – including those developed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna – and became the first Caribbean country to greenlight Russia’s Sputnik V back in February.
While Gonsalves previously said “misrepresentations and misinformation” were responsible for vaccine hesitancy on the island, he recently argued that residents remain more skeptical in some shots than others. “A number of people don’t want to take AstraZeneca because of all the stuff coming out of Europe. The stories about blood clots, all the ups and downs in France and Germany, restrictions for people over a certain age,” he told the Moscow Times earlier this month.
That made some people timid, they were saying they were waiting for another vaccine. Some people said they were waiting for Sputnik V.
Though only about 11% of the country is fully immunized, officials were forced to donate several unused batches of the AstraZeneca jab before they spoil. Gonsalves, himself inoculated with the Russian vaccine, recently ordered another 100,000 doses of Sputnik V, or enough to fully vaccinate about half of the island’s population, hoping it’ll boost voluntary vaccination numbers.
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