By Carlena Knight
The Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (ABHTA) is calling on government officials to make it mandatory that only vaccinated travellers be allowed entry for stay-over trips.
“Our destination remains under serious threat as we are continuously faced with a wave of Covid-19 infections,” the body said in a press release.
“The … ABHTA, in consideration of the viability of the sector, has taken the position that the government of Antigua and Barbuda should move to mandate that only vaccinated travellers may enter for stay-over vacations.”
The body wants the policy to come into effect on October 1, allowing passengers sufficient notice of the change.
“Our focus is squarely on the protection of our employees, their families and, further, for the sustainability of the sector.
“The hospitality industry has taken a severe hit from the Covid-19 pandemic and for the immediate future, the pandemic will continue to cause uncertainty in occupancy levels and sustained employment.
“We are in a difficult period calling for some tough but necessary decisions to be made,” Executive Chairman of the ABHTA, Vernon Jeffers Snr, explained in the release.
The association is also calling for all travellers aged 5 to 11 to have a negative PCR test taken within three days of travel, while children under 17 should be able to provide evidence that they are fully inoculated.
The ABHTA will also be seeking an audience with local policymakers to recommend a reduction in the testing period for travel to the destination.
Currently all travellers must present a negative PCR test taken within seven days of travel. A proposed reduction to three days – with the acceptance of a rapid antigen test for vaccinated travellers – will also be tabled in the discussion.
This stance comes just a day after Minister of Health Molwyn Joseph revealed that serious consideration and deliberation would have to be made on whether or not the government will implement a new policy permitting only vaccinated persons from entering the country.
Joseph, speaking on Observer radio on Monday, admitted that with the recent rise in Covid cases in Antigua and Barbuda, a vaccination policy will now have to be looked at.
“Well, the time has come for us to do a thorough evaluation of that and I will go as far as to say the science is showing that that is a matter that should be seriously considered by the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda.
“I am not inclined to take a position as a minister of government before I take the opportunity to sit with my colleagues and give them my professional opinion, but I will go as far to say, indeed, that is something that we should take seriously and cannot be ignored any longer,” Joseph said.
The potential move has not previously been backed by the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst, who said last week on Observer radio that such a policy could negatively impact the tourism industry.
But, according to Joseph, due to the fluid situation that the country is in, the policy must be considered.
“The fact of the matter is that this is a very dynamic environment; that is why we review every week because this thing with the virus is not static at all,” Joseph said.
“If we had considered this, let’s say nine months ago, it would be a clear ‘no’, because nine months ago many people were coming to Antigua who were not vaccinated and to have imposed that requirement then would have resulted in a dramatic reduction of the flow of visitors to the country.
“Now, if it is showing that 80-90 percent of the visitors coming to our country are vaccinated, why not make it a requirement?” he asked.
“It has to do with the evolution and balance of the economic interest,” Joseph added.
Several hotels have in fact implemented such a rule in the past few days.
Elite Island Resorts, which represents five properties in Antigua, plus several more across the region, was the first to introduce the measure by informing prospective guests that as of September 1, they will have to show proof of vaccination upon check-in.
Elite posted the information on the website of each property pointing out that proof of vaccination means a written CDC vaccination card for the US, NHS vaccination report pass or certificate for UK visitors, official vaccination receipt for Canadians, or similar recognised documents.
The local properties that fall under the Elite brand include Galley Bay Resort and Spa, Hammock Cove, St James’s Club and Villas, Pineapple Beach Club, and the Verandah Resort.