Gov’t rethinks recommendations for arriving tourists

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by Elesha George

[email protected]

The recommendation to have stay-over visitors to Antigua and Barbuda quarantined for 14 days is being reconsidered, as policymakers scramble to put in place a health and safety strategy before borders reopen on June 1.

Quarantining tourists was deemed to be unfeasible if the country is to stand a chance of attracting the type of visitors that will yield a significant amount of economic activity.

“We think the average length of stay will be seven days and not 14 days. It’s not going to be feasible to impose a 14-day quarantine on a would-be visitor,” said Information Minister, Melford Nicholas.

Government has also announced a probable U-turn on previous plans to require all international travellers to present a certificate declaring them Covid-free upon arrival, declaring the measure “unlikely and impractical”. Instead, rapid virus testing will be carried out at ports of entry at a small cost to be borne by the visitor.

Nicholas said passengers will be allowed to disembark and enter Antigua once there is a “confidence level of approximately 98 per cent”.

“Should a requirement happen where a person has shown any illness, we still have onshore facilities on island [where] we will be able to do further tests and isolation and treatment of those particular persons,” he explained.

These guidelines are among a number of regulations that need to be ironed out before the country begins to accept visitors. According to Nicholas, ministers of health and tourism have not yet finalised the way tourists should be received and treated upon entry into the country or at hotels and other accommodations.

Safeguards that have been revealed include the location of quarantine facilities, and an agreement to install a high-tech camera to measure body temperature of passengers arriving into VC Bird International Airport.

Meanwhile, there has been yet another delay with local testing which was anticipated to begin this week, barring any hiccups. Still, Nicholas said he believes the country is in a good position to reopen because of the effectiveness of its contact tracing methods. He said the government and those at the frontline of this pandemic “know what the local situation is” and have chosen to move ahead with a phased reopening. 

“If we know for a fact that we have circumscribed where the infections came from – we know there were two events, the British Airways flight and the Montserrat voyage – so we knew that we had the matter under control – before those two events there was no Covid in Antigua and so why would we get crazy to try and test five per cent of the population just merely to keep the statistics common with everyone else?” he explained.

The Information Minister said the government is aware of and understands the risks, which is why it has been consulting widely to ensure that should something happen, it is in a position to respond and to respond appropriately.

The government is aiming to have all safeguards in place shortly, noting that it is “obliged to open the economy”, particularly as its mainstay is tourism.

“In the words of one of my colleagues, there is no vaccine for hunger. If we keep the doors of our country closed, that’s what’s going to happen; the government is going to be outside of financial resources to provide services that the people need, including feeding our people,” the minister added.

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