By Gemma Handy
The erratic arrival of ferries from Montserrat – often carrying more than 100 passengers a time – is causing headaches for coronavirus-screening teams in Antigua as authorities fight on to stem the contagion.
Since Sunday, more than 500 people have returned from the emerald isle where St Patrick’s Day festivities had been planned, Health Minister Molwyn Joseph told a press conference yesterday.
And the boats’ unpredictable schedule is forcing health chiefs to scramble to get medics in place to screen those disembarking.
“This keeps happening where the ships are not coming on any regular schedule and then all we are told is a ship is on its way to Antigua. Then we have to make the adjustments, call the epidemiologist, call the EMS, and get nurses and doctors on site to do the surveillance,” Minister Joseph explained.
“Even earlier this week the boat came in with 140 people. These boats are coming without much advance notice; they just show up most of the time.”
Exacerbating concerns is the fact that some ferry passengers were on the same March 10 British Airways flight as the country’s sole coronavirus patient.
Health chiefs on the two islands have been collaborating to intercept anyone who was on that plane, Chief Medical Officer Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas said.
“We have to make sure we pick up those persons that we are looking for… So when the Montserrat ferry comes back we have to be checking that those persons don’t disembark in Antigua and go out into the wider population,” she said.
Meanwhile, while the country’s borders remain open to most tourists, the number of visitors arriving by air has “significantly reduced”, Minister Joseph continued.
“Intense surveillance efforts,” continue, he said.
Questionnaires have been sent to British Airways that all travellers heading to the twin island nation are required to complete.
Any sign that a passenger may have been exposed to dreaded COVID-19 – or who displays “a single symptom” – is automatically barred from boarding.