By Elesha George
Wavering support for the Caricom travel bubble could be a detrimental blow to LIAT’s successful restart, the ease of intra-regional travel and how quickly tourist-based regional countries can rebound during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sudden changes in the travel bubble are likely to affect the restart of the airline, which intends to begin a limited flight schedule this Sunday.
According to Cabinet spokesman and Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, “if the arrangements for travel and the protocols for intra-regional travel are going to be cropped and changed at the blink of every eye, then it becomes a greater challenge for any business to operate, far less the persons who would wish to travel … the instability of the regimes that are in place because of what is now taking place in respect of the travel bubble is not helpful to LIAT. It’s not helpful for persons wishing to travel because it’s going to create that level of uncertainty”.
In September, Caricom heads of government agreed on guidelines – recommended by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) – that would allow persons travelling within Caricom states to avoid weeks of quarantine once they present a negative PCR test.
However, Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis have since decided not to participate in the bubble, while Barbados has gone against the terms of the agreement by listing Antigua and Barbuda as a high-risk country.
“More importantly and more troublesome has been the actions of Barbados which seemed to have come up with its own categorisation and would have listed a number of Caribbean states in high category to include Antigua.
“Now this falls out of the framework of the Caricom travel bubble so it is from this standpoint that the government is expressing some concern and I am certain that this matter will wend its way back before the heads of government for further consideration,” explained Nicholas.
As of November 3, the twin island nation, along with Caricom member states to include the Bahamas, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Belize, were listed among countries with increased risk of transmission of Covid-19.
However, compared to countries like St Lucia, which currently has 74 active cases but is listed in the medium risk category, Antigua and Barbuda only has nine active Covid cases – far below the 20-person threshold to even be considered as a medium risk country.
St Vincent and the Grenadines (4) has also been categorised by Barbados as a medium risk country while Anguilla (0), Dominica (17), Grenada (4), Montserrat (0) and St Kitts and Nevis (0) are said to pose a very low risk. Even China has been categorised as a very low risk country.
The decision by the Barbados government to list Antigua and Barbuda as a high risk nation means that travellers who leave the country are required to present a negative PCR test – taken within three days – before arriving in Barbados. Anyone who arrives in Barbados without that test can be denied entry.
Once there, they must remain in quarantine for seven days after arrival. Four to five days after they arrive, they will be retested for Covid-19. It is only after a second negative PCR test that travellers are allowed to move within Barbados unrestricted.
Minister Nicholas believes that the time will come when regional governments will have to reconvene to review the sustainability of the travel bubble and to iron out issues with implementing the Caricom travel bubble.
He said Prime Minister Gaston Browne has inquired from the Barbados government about its new categorisation.