By Shermain Bique-Charles
Just four of the 147 passengers that arrived into the country on the first commercial flight back into Antigua and Barbuda are quarantined at the government-designated facility of the Hawksbill resort.
The remainder, according to Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez, have opted to self-quarantine; 16 at other resorts, with the rest allowed to isolate at home.
American Airlines touched down from Miami at VC Bird International Airport on Thursday night, slightly earlier than its scheduled 11.15pm landing, officially signalling the reopening of the country’s borders to tourists.
Fernandez said the people who are at home will be monitored by specially-assigned health experts.
“Those who will be quarantined either at home or a cottage near to their home will be monitored by heath officials. This is something that we have done before but, in this case, it will be ramped up,” he explained.
Controversy had previously erupted amid plans to charge returning nationals $100 a day to offset the cost of quarantining them.
Fernandez said Thursday’s flight had seen almost 400 people return to work in the hotel and tourism sector after 10 weeks of Covid-related border closures that threatened to bring the economy to its knees.
“I know there have been doubts about the reopening,” Fernandez continued. “Already many people have gone back to work because of just this one flight. This is good news. We need to get everyone who lost their jobs in the sector back at work.”
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has estimated that around 20,000 people employed in the tourism industry have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. He warned that the impact of Covid-19, particularly on tourism-dependent economies, will be much more severe than predicted.
“This is why it is imperative that we do all we can … to jumpstart the sector once again, while protecting lives,” Fernandez added.
PM Browne declared in an address to the nation on Thursday night that citizens cannot live their lives in fear of the coronavirus. The government has said keeping borders closed would result in economic collapse, high unemployment and overwhelming poverty.