By Orville Williams
Following the discontinuation of the rapid antigen testing service at the VC Bird International Airport, hotels are now tasked with providing the Covid test for their guests, ahead of their departure from the country.
The service was introduced at the start of last week to improve the passenger experience – amid the continued disruptions caused by the pandemic – making the transition back to their countries of origin and to other ports of entry, seamless.
Antiguans and Barbudans were required to pay EC$150 for the tests and the fee for non-national visitors was US$120.
The Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority (ABAA) noted then, that “the initiative is timely, as the airport is experiencing an appreciable increase in airline traffic and more anticipated in the coming months”.
However, it announced in a media statement later that same week that the service would be discontinued after July 16.
At the time, no reason was given by the ABAA for the discontinuation, but this week’s post-Cabinet report stated that “the tests cannot be safely provided at the airport’s departure lounge” and a number of risks compelled the body to end the testing.
These risks, the Cabinet note said, include the disposal of medical waste, the inability to reverse the number of persons with whom an infected person would have been in close contact by the time the status is discovered at the airport, the possible pandemonium which a crowded departure lounge could generate, and the spread which could have inflicted harm on the unsuspecting checking-out and waiting-to-board passengers.
As a result, the report added, “hotels will be required to provide this service to their guests”.
This, of course, will not be a new phenomenon for the hotels, many of which had taken the initiative several months ago to offer the service to their guests, after receiving countries began to require the test results for both citizens and non-citizens entering their borders.
The Cabinet said further, that “each passenger is to be made aware of his/her Covid-19 status before leaving his/her hotel or home”, meaning there could well be a renewed strain on the testing facilities on the island.
Along with the Sir Lester Bird Mount St John’s Medical Centre, several private medical facilities have been offering the testing service, particularly for departing travellers.
The end of the testing regime at the airport should, therefore, not cause any significant trouble for the hotels and specifically, the visitors, and Information Minister Melford Nicholas assured that there is enough capacity in the country to meet the expected demands.
“There are sufficient medical practitioners who are offering the antigen test. The government only has one requirement: to ensure through the Ministry of Health [that] it is an approved, authorised antigen test.
“But the government alone is not the only agency that is providing these tests … so, there are sufficient tests available on island and there are sufficient service providers who are available to ensure that they can meet the increased demand,” Nicholas said.
Both the country’s public and private Covid testing capacity will be put to the test going forward, with the additional requirement for public sector employees — who are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated — to submit to twice-monthly testing.