My Fellow Citizens, Residents, and Visitors to this our Nature Isle,

My wife Clara and family join me in celebrating with you, and Dominicans around the world, the 43rd Anniversary of the attainment of our Independence. We do this with utmost sincerity and a spirit of hope and confidence in our future, despite the challenging and disruptive consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is always a great pleasure and honour for me to address you as your President on the occasion of the observance of our political independence. Independence is a significantly historic occasion for any country, intended to call to mind and honour the innumerable efforts and sacrifices of our forefathers and past leaders in various fields who have paved the way for our development. Since the attainment of Universal Adult Suffrage in 1951, there are many in all walks of life who made it possible for us to progress through internal self-government to the realization of these 43 years of political independence. The observance of Independence affords us an opportunity: to reflect upon our past struggles, challenges and difficulties; to be proud of our freedom, our democracy, our values, ideals and achievements; to appreciate and recognize our fellow citizens who have given exceptional service to nation-building; to remind us that we all are Dominicans first; to rethink who we are and how we got to this point; and as a proud and patriotic people, to embrace a growth and development strategy to further advance the welfare and wellbeing of all of the people of this beautiful island nation, Dominica, that God has blessed us with.

In my 2020 Independence Day Message, I took the opportunity to remind us of our countless blessings and our fortitude, by highlighting the many natural disasters that we have survived since Independence in 1978. I made particular reference to their significantly negative impact on our development and advancement as a people and as a nation, caused by the major natural disasters of Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 and Hurricane Maria in 2017. I found it necessary to revisit this earlier period to reassure ourselves that having overcome these disasters, we are capable of winning this current war against the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is a far more insidious public health crisis, which over the past two (2) years has kept mutating, thereby presenting new challenges to the scientific and medical community as well as the global society as a whole, to control its spread. Its impact is less visible and dramatic than storms, earthquakes and hurricanes but no less destructive to the fabric of our economy. We, therefore, need to apply even greater fortitude, discipline, courage, unity of purpose and perseverance, so as to win this ongoing war that must be won at all cost.

Last year around this time, we recorded a total of 40 confirmed COVID cases with 8 active cases, no COVID-19 related deaths and no community spread. We continued to adjust and adapt to this "new normal" environment involving the wearing of face masks, temperature checks, hand washing/sanitizing and social distancing while praying earnestly for the discovery of an effective treatment and/or vaccine against this dreaded disease. We remained committed to complying with the guidelines and advisories of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and New Health Investment, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and were doing extremely well in managing the spread of this virus until the end of July 2021. Our recorded number of cases, seventeen (17) months following the emergence of the virus on island, was 219 confirmed cases, total active cases 9, no community spread and no deaths.

In August 2021, we began experiencing a second wave of the virus, this time involving the very infectious and transmissible Delta variant, resulting in an exponential increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalization, deaths and community spread. As of the third week in October 2021, i.e. within a ten-week period, we have recorded 4508 confirmed cases (an average of 72 new cases per day), with 4,075 recoveries, 403 active cases, 30 deaths; 22 or 73% of those deaths are from among older persons, nearly all of whom were unvaccinated. This situation is very disconcerting. I am particularly concerned at the high number of older persons who continue to succumb to this dreadful disease. With a small population like ours, one death is one too many. Until most of us will have taken the vaccine, allowing the populace to achieve herd immunity protection, the disease will continue to have a dramatic impact on every aspect of our lives and our future.

The data also reveal that the majority of persons who contract, spread and succumb to the virus are unvaccinated. According to recent statistics shared with the public by the Ministry of Health, of the 4,508 confirmed cases, 75% were unvaccinated and of the 30 deaths, 92% were unvaccinated.

Despite the limited resources of finance, manpower and medical technology, our government was able to put in place response strategies to ensure an inclusive and effective national response to this pandemic that leaves no one behind or unprovided for. We now have three types of vaccines at our disposal at all of our seven (7) health districts, namely the AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Pfizer. Nevertheless, we are still struggling to achieve the level of vaccination needed to achieve herd immunity. Our target population is 53,281 persons, i.e. those 12 years and older, which is 76% of the total population. As of the previous week, 27,534 persons took their first dose and 23,946 persons their second dose; leaving us with only 44% of the target population fully vaccinated. We seem to be doing better in the area of testing. From last week's data presented by the Ministry of Health,87,525 Antigen and PCR tests had been carried out, which in itself is a good thing as testing greatly helps in terms of determining the COVID status of individuals and in monitoring and managing the spread of the virus. However, testing cannot build defense against the COVID-19 virus. The answer lies in the COVID-19 vaccine – the best protection against the virus.

Our 43rd Anniversary of Independence is being celebrated under the theme, "United in Purpose: Our Health, Our Heritage, Our Future." This is a well-thought-out and relevant theme in light of the current times when our health, our heritage and our future are all being seriously threatened. We cannot afford the luxury of focusing our energies on politics, religion or other differences or persuasions in our response to this deadly virus. Neither should we be uttering the words, if, but, or maybe in speaking about taking the vaccine. If ever there was a time when every well-meaning and concerned citizen should ask himself not what my country can do for me but what I can do for my country, then that time is now. Dominica is depending on each and every one of us to win the war against the pandemic and to return the country to a state of normalcy and to do this we must, all of us, get vaccinated.

The challenges posed by this pandemic call for a redoubled effort in order to proceed with our series of projects and programs outlined in this year's Budget and which are geared at ushering our country into a new development paradigm propelled by our commitment to build back better after Hurricane Maria and to make Dominica the first climate-resilient country in the world. This is being pursued by the implementation of our green energy initiative centered on our geothermal development program, the construction of our international airport; the continuation of the Housing Development Program; major road rehabilitation programs to include Loubiere to Bagatelle, Bois Diable to Hatten Garden, Bois Diable to White River (East Coast), Portsmouth to Marigot and Layou Bridge to York Valley Bridge. In addition, there is the new digital economy initiative.

It is also important to place emphasis on positioning ourselves to embrace the many opportunities as they present themselves in the current and post-COVID world and to develop effective strategies to deal with critical issues such as climate change, improvement

in public health, boosting trade and investment, re-invigorating agriculture, tourism and manufacturing, and the enhancement of regional and international cooperation and development.

Now is the time to put words into action. So let us all resolve to step onto the battlefield to face this coronavirus head-on, demonstrating the same tenacity and commitment of our forefathers; adopting unity of purpose as our guiding principle; adhering to the well-known saying "the health of the nation is the wealth of the nation" such that it can resonate in our minds, using the preventive protocols as our ammunition and the vaccine as our breastplate and our protective shield. We cannot allow this invisible enemy to win. We do not have a choice, we must protect and secure our health, our country, our future. We owe this victory to ourselves, our loved ones, the children and the elderly, our Nation; and to our frontline workers who have been laboring out there in the vineyard for the past 19 months to keep us safe, and who are in need of much-needed rest.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank, encourage and recognize all those who have been on the frontline of this COVID-19 fight, to empathize with those who have tested positive and have since recovered or are recovering from this disease, and to sympathize with all those who have lost a family member, friend and/or loved one to this disease. Permit me also to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and thanks to all those who have already taken the vaccine, and to urge all those who have not yet done so, to come forward and get vaccinated. Meanwhile, we should do all in our power to ensure that the elderly members of our families, whose medical condition allows it, get vaccinated as a matter of urgency.

Owing to the continued presence of COVID-19, Government has taken the decision, as it did last year, to significantly scale down the highlights of our 2021 Independence Celebration. The Parade of Uniformed Groups will take the form of a Virtual Independence Day Observance Ceremony at the State House Conference Centre on 3rd November at 9:00 a.m., and the usual President's Reception has been cancelled again for a second year.

Let us continue to pray for our Nation and particularly our frontline workers who are engaged daily in the fight to combat the challenges and difficulties posed by this deadly pandemic.

On this memorable occasion of the attainment of 43 years of nationhood, I extend warmest greetings and congratulations on behalf of my wife and family and myself, to all citizens and residents of our beloved country – the Nature Isle of Dominica.

May the Good Lord bless us with an enjoyable and peaceful 43rd Anniversary of Independence, and forever bless, protect and keep the Commonwealth of Dominica.