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First cruises, now hotel guests requesting locals be inoculated 

By Orville Williams

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Despite pronouncements a few months ago that Covid-19 vaccinations will remain voluntary, the likelihood of the shots becoming somewhat mandatory in Antigua and Barbuda – specifically within the tourism sector – is increasing with each official announcement.

Just recently, the government said players within the international cruise industry were still very interested in resuming travel to the island, but that interest was said to come with the condition that locals who operate in the sector – such as cab drivers, tour operators and shop workers – would be vaccinated to provide an improved level of safety and protection for the visiting guests.

The request was noted to be reciprocal, as the cruises assured that they would only be transporting guests that have similarly taken a full dose of an approved vaccine.

Now, as more people in the country’s major tourism source markets get vaccinated and carriers start to increase their airlift, hotels and other such accommodations are being told that guests would prefer that the people they interact with on the ground are fully vaccinated.

Officials from the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (ABHTA), met with the Cabinet yesterday and disclosed those increasing requests, as well as the fact that approximately half of the employees within the sector have yet to be vaccinated.

Cabinet Spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nicholas, told the post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday that while the ABHTA made their concerns known, no conclusion has yet been reached on whether they will continue the voluntary vaccination policy currently in place, or move to develop a mandatory vaccination policy.

“While the two officers who came [to Cabinet] were not in a position to make a broad determination on behalf of the entire association, certainly they have engaged with us and they understood a bit of the thinking of the government.

“They have to do some internal work and they are going to give the Cabinet an indication in the coming days, as to what type of policy they will develop to assist in meeting the expectations of their publics.”

Given the sustained losses faced over the past months, it is safe to say the prospects of a financial injection will be heavily considered in any decision ultimately made by the ABHTA. While the ‘rights’ of the workers to choose to get vaccinated has to also be considered, it could well end up being a situation where the hotels feel they have no choice but to acquiesce in the decision, and in quick time.

Nicholas spoke along those same lines, even suggesting that preferential treatment may have to be applied with respect to vaccinations, in future recruiting within the sector.

“How do you guarantee your guests when they are actually booking and asking you, ‘do you have a safe environment for me to spend my vacation?’ How can you say yes when less than half of your employees are currently vaccinated?

“[On] the whole question of rehiring, they may [even] be forced to look at giving priority to those persons who are already vaccinated. These are issues that they’re going to have to contend with,” he explained.

The post-Cabinet report also stated that the body will discuss the vaccination policy issue with groups such as the Employers Federation, the Chamber of Commerce and the Trade Union Congress, to arrive at a consensus.

It also reiterated the government’s position that mandatory vaccinations could come into play for the entire country, if herd immunity is not reached in a suitable time.