Ambassador Sir Ronald Sanders tells US authorities its travel ratings mean ‘life or death’ to Caribbean
By Gemma Handy
The USA’s controversial ranking of Antigua and Barbuda as a country with a “very high risk” of Covid-19 – which threatens to sound a death knell for tourism – could be amended next week.
The latest travel recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told American citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to the twin island nation.
And with the US comprising Antigua and Barbuda’s biggest tourism source market, the level four rating has caused widespread angst as the country struggles on to keep the economy afloat.
There was anger too given the relatively low infection rate; Antigua and Barbuda has officially recorded just 139 cases of the coronavirus since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Sir Ronald Sanders, ambassador to the US, told Observer yesterday that he had “raised a fuss” and urged the authorities to reconsider.
“I wrote to express my concern. I told them I was shocked and that they have to understand these things are like life and death to countries like mine,” he said.
Sir Ronald continued that he had been locked in discussions with CDC Caribbean, the coordinating agency for the region, for most of Tuesday morning.
The level four rating is the highest possible and replaces the previous rating, issued a month ago, which categorised Antigua and Barbuda as level three or ‘high risk’. Sir Ronald explained however that CDC had recently changed its assessment methods, resulting in the elimination of the level three category.
All countries previously rated level three were automatically shunted to level four.
He also explained that Washington uses a 28-day period, which varies from nation to nation, to evaluate each country’s infection rate and case numbers.
“Although they posted the ratings on November 21, the numbers they were using for Antigua and Barbuda were from the end of October,” he said.
New numbers are being compiled today, Sir Ronald said, and Washington is expected to announce a revision next week.
“My expectation would be a change in the categorisation,” he said.
“CDC Caribbean were as concerned as I was at the level given to Antigua. They did not expect it either. However, they can only provide the raw numbers; they can’t guarantee what the categorisation will be,” he said.
Determining each country’s ranking depends on two sets of criteria: the number of confirmed cases, infection rates etc; and also the facilities available locally such as the number of hospital beds and the destination’s capacity for treating infectious diseases.
Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez told Observer yesterday he was “very concerned” by the level four grade.
“We asked the ministry of health to look into it. As far as we are concerned we should not be in that category with just seven active cases,” he said.
The news was also received with shock by Foreign Affairs Minister Chet Greene.
He said Antigua and Barbuda’s strict protocols for curbing the virus had seen “no community spread and no clusters”.
He also said it was perplexing that other Caribbean countries such as Barbados and St Lucia had been deemed to pose a “moderate risk” despite having higher numbers of cases.
Several other Caribbean countries are also declared very high risk in the latest rankings. They include Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Cuba and St Martin.
Those deemed low risk include Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada.