Browne clarifies U-turn on virus tests for tourists

Prime Minister Gaston Browne (file photo)
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By Carlena Knight

“We have to protect the image of the country,” said Prime Minister Gaston Browne while addressing concerns over the removal of entry testing requirements after tourists threatened legal action.

The government’s about-face policy does not require everyone to be tested on arrival at VC Bird International Airport.

Instead, the protocol now states that all international travellers must undertake a Covid-19 test within seven days of boarding a flight to Antigua and Barbuda. And even though they will present a certificate upon disembarking, those who display high temperatures will nevertheless be subjected to on-island testing.

Browne was responding specifically to comments made by United Progressive Party (UPP) Chairman D. Gisele Isaac on Observer radio’s Big Issues programme on Sunday.

Isaac criticised the government for yielding to threats from tourists who she said “should adhere to our laws” instead of the country buckling under the pressure.

 However, although Browne agrees with some aspects of Isaac’s arguments, he said the “country’s scarce resources must be protected”.

“She’s right that legally they have to adhere to our laws, but when you look at the fact that they are making these arguments and threatening hoteliers and are likely to create a significant amount of adverse publicity and to include diplomatic and political issues in the US, and that they may even pursue frivolous litigation by tying up our scarce resources, then it still represents a risk.

“It is that risk that we are seeking to manage to ensure that there is testing prior to arrival. It’s a fluid situation and we have to be able to respond to threats of litigation and adverse publicity to protect the image of the country,” the PM said.

Browne continued that it is imperative for the country to maintain strong relationships with larger markets like the US, and be responsible in ensuring that tourists who test positive are quarantined and treated accordingly before returning home.

“The US may well accuse us of deliberately facilitating people who are positive with Covid travelling back and infecting innocent people,” the PM remarked.

He is however confident that this new protocol will better help the country to manage the possibility of any virus spread.

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