By Elesha George
A recommendation from the Ministers of Health within the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean State (OECS) has resulted in the implementation of a policy that would require many people leaving the sub-region to have a Covid test to travel abroad.
Nationals and residents of Antigua and Barbuda will now have to be tested for Covid-19, if they wish to travel outside of the state and into countries that require them to show proof of their health status.
Effective immediately, travellers will have to present Covid-19 certificates when they arrive at the airport and before boarding. The policy does not apply to residents of Montserrat who use Antigua as a hub to other destinations, much like Barbuda.
However, Cabinet spokesman, Information Minister Melford Nicholas said the change will affect other OECS and Caricom countries, with which the government previously planned to implement a reciprocal ‘travel bubble’ and which would have allowed residents of Antigua and Barbuda to travel within the region without being tested.
The offer was based upon reciprocity which the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst, said “was not achieved”, as several Caribbean states mandated that persons be tested before entry.
The test would however prevent travellers from being quarantined in these countries.
The conditions of the travel bubble were further reviewed after a firefighter who travelled from Antigua to St Vincent tested positive for Covid-19 on entry, causing eight of his Antigua-based coworkers to be quarantined.
As a result of the change in policy, the government will be permitting private medical facilities to engage in PCR and Sophia rapid Covid testing in order to meet the additional requirement, including the requisite that a person performing surgery would need to present their results.
“The government is of the view now that we can redeploy some of the test units to be able to accommodate a number of other options. The Cabinet has taken the policy decision, working through the Ministry of Health, that there are several private laboratories that we will engage to ensure that the testing, even utilising government resources, and to the standards that the government would want, can be done through the private laboratory,” Nicholas explained.
Meanwhile, Hurst said because the cost of carrying out Covid tests could be expensive, he anticipated that authorisation for additional doctors to test will likely create more competitive rates.