By Theresa Goodwin
Antigua and Barbuda may be faced with the possibility of more imported cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID19), following an admission by Prime Minister Gaston Browne that it would be “consequential economically”, to restrict travel from the United States and the United Kingdom.
The twin island recorded the first confirmed case of the dreaded virus on Friday, and during a radio interview on Saturday, Browne stated: “If you close those two windows then, clearly, it would have a significant amount of dislocation.
“If we stop flights from outside the UK and the US, I would believe that practically all the hotels would have to close. It would mean sending home all the hotel workers; government’s revenue would reduce significantly; we would not be able to manage our payroll and other obligations.”
There is also the concern that restricting travel would significantly affect food security in the country.
While noting that “unfortunately”, there would be more imported cases, Browne suggested that the practical thing to do, at this point, was to manage the risk.
The intention going forward, he said, is to manage the risk by strengthening capabilities at all ports of entry for these particular visitors, as well as returning nationals, and purchasing specialized equipment to ensure that local authorities could test for the virus, thereby eliminating the need to send samples to Trinidad and Tobago.
The Prime Minister also spoke of the possibility of sourcing a drug from Cuba, which is expected to boost the immune system of nationals, particularly the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions.
This will be subject to research and additional advice from experts. According to Browne, the objective is to ensure there is no fatality in the country.
He said people over 80 years and over and those with existing health complications, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes, should strongly re-consider travelling or attending public gatherings.
Ordinary citizens are also being advised to follow similar recommendations.
“All Antiguans and Barbudans should stay put. None of us should be travelling at this point unless it is critical. Within the public sector, we have a ban on travel at this time and it will be extended to include all travel,” Browne said.
He emphasised that it will take personal responsibility, on the part of all nationals, to contain the spread of the virus by practicing proper hygiene and reducing exposure to people who are ill.
On March 14, 2020, the World Health Organization reported that there were 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Caribbean, and two deaths.
The countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Jamaica, Martinique, St Barthelemy, St Lucia, St Martin, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Bahamas became the latest country to confirm its first case on Sunday. Bahamian Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillian reported that the patient was a Bahamian woman who had not travelled outside the country within the last 20 days.