By Orville Williams
“An oversight” is how Prime Minister Gaston Browne is referring to the recent decision by Barbados health authorities to place Antigua and Barbuda in the high-risk category for Covid-19.
Earlier this week, it was reported that effective November 3, Barbados deemed 14 countries across the region, including Antigua and Barbuda, to be high-risk.
As a result, travellers from these countries would be subject to more stringent health measures, including a mandatory Covid-19 PCR test, appropriate quarantine accommodations and a second round of testing after arrival.
However, the Caricom travel bubble – already agreed to by heads of government – was meant to reduce the need for strict measures and improve the flow of travel between the islands, based on recommendations from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
With this move by Barbados falling outside the bubble agreement, Browne has joined Foreign Affairs Minister EP Chet Greene in questioning the rationale.
“I know that some people are concerned – and I am, too – about the recent classification of Antigua and Barbuda as a high-risk country and that was done without any supporting rationale or justification. I don’t think she [Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley] had any obligation to consult … that is really a sovereign issue, but one would expect that there would be some justification,” Browne said.
The prime minister cited the current recommendations from CARPHA for Covid-19 classification, expressing not only concern, but also confusion with the developments in Barbados.
“When you look at the classification of CARPHA, [they] have indicated that countries with less than 20 active cases should be characterised as low-risk. Even New York, as an example, would have indicated that countries with less than 10 should be characterised as low-risk.
“So, we do not understand the justification for this misclassification. In any case, we’ll put it down as an oversight,” the PM added.
Since news of the re-classification broke, there has been some speculation the move was borne out of malice, but Browne declared that he does not share these views.
“I know that some people are speculating this may have been done out of spite, but we do not hold that position. We expect all leaders within the region to operate with the level of maturity and probity, that they would not utilise the state apparatus to descend into any form of dishonesty or indecency. So, we maintain that it must be an oversight,” he stated.
The PM also assured that – despite any negative assumptions – his relationship with Prime Minister Mottley is amicable. The two leaders disagreed on the issue of LIAT earlier this year, with Barbados leading the charge toward liquidation, while Browne on the other hand looked to save the struggling airline.
Despite that difference in opinion, Browne said their relationship is just fine.
“Well, what I’ll say here is that Mia and I enjoy good relations. We have been collaborating and cooperating at the regional and international level, so I am not aware that there is any enmity. Yes, we had a difference over LIAT, but that issue has passed and I think we both understand that we have to continue to work together in the interest of the region,” he explained.
Alongside Antigua and Barbuda, the other regional countries included in Barbados’ high-risk category are the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks & Caicos Islands and the US Virgin Islands.