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By Elesha George

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Deputy Secretary General of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) said the Covid-19 measures recently applied in England will create a tougher road ahead for hoteliers and those who work in the tourism and hospitality industry in Antigua and Barbuda.

“Remember that’s the gateway to Europe, persons are now rebooking, cancelling vacations in order to save refunds and to rebook at another time,” Chester Hughes remarked.

British visitors contribute significantly to the country’s tourism industry which was anticipated to witness an uptick during the winter season. However, new measures imposed in England and a stay-at-home order in Scotland mean a ban on international travel unless persons have a legally permitted reason to do so.

It is unwelcome news for thousands of hotel staff, airline workers, taxi drivers, store owners, restaurateurs and vendors who have been struggling to survive since the national lockdown in March, 2020.

“At least two hotels have already called in to the union and have expressed concerns based on the levels of cancellation that they’re having, that they would have to place employees on reduced work week and in at least one instance one hotel has advised us that they may have to resort to a week-on, week-off rotation because the occupancies are falling and falling very fast,” Hughes told Observer.

He said the union and the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (AHTA) are monitoring the levels of cancellations which could mean further unemployment or reduced hours for more than 4,000 hotel employees.

About 3,000 people had returned to work in November, as hotel properties reopened to receive the expected surge in visitor arrivals.

As he spoke of the difficult period ahead, Hughes said that “some persons have not gone back to work and the little speck of light that was on the horizon has now been dimmed again by the darkness of Covid”.

The majority of hotel workers in particular have been paid their severance, used up their thrift monies and are now unsure of how they will maintain their standard of living if the industry remains dormant, he said.

“They would have gotten their equivalent of severance, they would have gotten their thrift and retirement funds, they would have used those monies up for survival and now you are on the brink of yet another threat to your job.

“It’s a very serious situation that we are monitoring and this may require some dialogue with government if things get from bad to worse because it is going to be survival of the fittest,” he explained.

Hughes said recent news that persons returning to Canada require a PCR test is also worrying.

Flights from the UK are currently operational, however, there are increasing restrictions. While there has been limited news from the various international airlines about continuing operations, further adverse developments in England could mean repatriation of UK citizens from Antigua and Barbuda and a temporary stop to airline services.

Currently, there are no quarantine requirements for persons leaving Antigua and Barbuda to enter the UK.