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But returning citizens warned they face $100 daily fee for ‘quarantine expenses’

The country is just a day away from welcoming back its first commercial flight in 10 weeks. On board the American Airlines passenger jet from Miami will be around 189 people – 150 of whom are returning nationals looking forward to once again setting foot on home soil.

The remainder comprise a “sprinkling of visitors heading to hotels”, minutes from a Cabinet meeting held on Monday said.

American Airlines has flights scheduled each week throughout June, but with smaller numbers of reservations booked so far.

Cabinet met to iron out protocols governing reopening the nation’s borders ahead of Thursday night’s 11.15pm arrival.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne acknowledged the weighty task of offsetting the risk of potential new Covid-19 cases and keeping cash flowing in the local economy.

“There must then be a clear signal that the state is opened for business, hotels are willing to receive guests, and hotel workers—among others—will have an opportunity to earn a living. That is the objective,” Cabinet notes stated. “Weighing the risks and ensuring the safety of all workers is the task of the administration.”

Government has already backtracked on previous plans to quarantine all arriving visitors, due to the fact it would deter tourists from coming.

Instead, everyone disembarking planes in Antigua will pass through a temperature-testing camera. And all people entering the country will also undergo a rapid antigen test which involves analysing a swab from the throat or nose. The latter can be done at the airport or the hotel where the passenger is staying to avoid clusters of people.

Meanwhile, all hotels set to welcome guests are deemed “bio-secure” spaces as they have special measures in place to limit virus spread.

“The invitation to travel to Antigua is not a license to infect,” Cabinet notes warned. Regulations in place apply to everyone from airline staff, to taxi drivers and hotel workers.

Returning nationals will also be required to go to a hotel designated by the government as bio-secure. And each one must pay a daily fee of $100 to offset lodging expenses, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel Hurst, told Observer.

The official quarantine period is 14 days which could effectively mean a hefty bill of $1,400. However, with the addition of the country’s high-tech PCR testing equipment, government hopes to declare returning citizens virus-free promptly.

“Once we can determine they don’t have Covid, most people would prefer to go home to their families,” Hurst said. “It is very likely we will be able to test everyone.”

Travellers entering the country in overnight transit will also have to stay in a government-designated safe bio-space.

The same protocols for those arriving by plane will apply to those coming into the country on private boats. The Nevis Street pier will be the sole point of entry by water for the time being; virus testing of yacht passengers will be done at the port or Mount St John’s Medical Centre.

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