By Kadeem Joseph
With the lucrative cruise industry grinding to a worldwide halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the projected completion of dredging in the St John’s Harbour to allow the berthing of large ships could be a much-needed boost for local tourism.
However, there may still be hurdles to overcome before the return of cruise liners to the harbours of Antigua and Barbuda.
On Thursday, reports from the Cabinet indicated that the dredging of the channel and the turning basin in St John’s Harbour would likely be completed by the end of February this year, making way for the reception of Oasis-class cruise vessels in March or April.
“No date has yet been fixed for the return of cruise vessels to the Caribbean, however, the likelihood of millions receiving the vaccine in the source markets will likely lead to the resuscitation of the cruise trade,” the notes from the Cabinet stated.
However, scientists and health officials have indicated that some vaccines are more effective at reducing the severity of disease than reducing transmission.
They further warn that while these early Covid-19 vaccines will probably all have some effect on transmission, it remains to be seen how much, or if one vaccine is better at reducing the spread of the virus than another.
In addressing the concern during the post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister of Information Melford Nicholas said the government will not be “capricious” in its approach to the return of the cruise industry.
“What we are doing is making the preparations. The Florida Caribbean Cruise Association did give us an indication that they are working to that timeline and, accordingly, we also have to make preparations for particular timelines in terms of the infrastructure that we want to be in place,” Nicholas added.
He said that the protocols that would allow for the return of cruise ships are now being discussed with tourism officials and the various ministries of health and the Pan American Health Organization.
Although vaccines are key tools in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, cruise lines are yet to commit to a return date to the seas, with several major companies reporting further delays in plans to sail again, since the industry was forced to close in March 2020.