By Orville Williams
There are no immediate fears within the Tourism Ministry that the added cost for unvaccinated cruise passengers to take a Covid-19 test will affect the earnings of local businesses that are depending on the cruise sector rebound to recover from months of lost income.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne disclosed recently that a decision was made to impose the new regulation, which requires the unvaccinated passengers to submit to rapid Covid-19 test at their expense, before being allowed to disembark the vessels.
This, the PM said, is meant “to reduce the risk of a positive person transmitting the virus to a local”.
As expected, this disclosure prompted the immediate concern that passengers could choose to remain on the cruise vessels rather than pay for the test, meaning the money they would potentially spend with a local business would remain in their pockets and not be injected into the economy.
Tourism Minister, Charles Fernandez, responded to those concerns this week, pointing to the fact that the large majority of the visiting cruise passengers are already fully vaccinated.
“First of all, I support the recommendation…I don’t think it will affect [earnings] in a big way, because it’s a minority of persons so far that are travelling without vaccinations.”
Fernandez also issued a warning to the country that another more serious issue could threaten the possibilities for earnings, if residents do not remain vigilant and continue to abide by the risk management protocols.
“The other thing is, if we’re not careful and we allow [Covid] cases to rise in Antigua at a very serious level, that in turn could cause some of the ships not to come here.
“So, when you weigh it in the balance, I think it will be very much the right decision.”
Meanwhile, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Colin James, spoke on the importance of protecting the local population, even as more opportunities for economic growth begin to open up.
“I think one of the things that we have to be so mindful of, is that whatever we do as we reopen our borders – whether it’s air or by sea – [we have to] make sure that the citizens and residents of Antigua and Barbuda, first and foremost, are safe and they are protected from any spread of Covid.
“Whatever protocols the health authorities have put in place, I think they have been well thought out, they are thorough and they are some of the protocols that have kept us safe so far.
”So, again, our paramount concern is to make sure, even as we reopen, that we do so in a safe and sustainable manner,” James said.
Antigua and Barbuda has received two cruise vessels so far since the reopening of the cruise tourism sector. Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze and the Seabourn Odyssey both docked in Heritage Quay with approximately 250 and 200 fully vaccinated passengers respectively.