By Orville Williams
The government has made another adjustment to the requirements for incoming travel, making the on-arrival Covid-19 test voluntary for fully vaccinated passengers.
Previously – or currently rather – on-arrival Covid-19 testing is mandatory for all incoming passengers, with the government insisting last week that it was necessary to maintain that requirement, along with the pre-departure Covid-19 test, to reduce the risk of inadvertent spread as much as possible.
There is also a fee attached to the on-arrival tests, with the cost slightly higher for tourists versus locals.
Come June 1st, however, when these and other changes are to officially go into effect, travelers will have the option of taking the on-arrival tests, rather than be mandated to undergo them.
Cabinet Spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nicholas, explained during yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing that the rationale behind this new change is to reduce the logistical burden on travelers who are fully vaccinated, while giving them the opportunity reduce the amount of time spent in quarantine.
“It’s a whole question of, if you want to avoid the longer version of the quarantine, you submit to another test and then you can be out in 48 hours”, Nicholas said.
That 48 hours the Minister spoke of refers to the changes publicized just a week ago, where fully vaccinated travelers could be free of their maximum seven-day quarantine in just two days, if the on-arrival Covid-19 tests they take return negative.
That rule applies to fully vaccinated locals, tourists or other visitors who enter the island, meaning that people who fall into either group could be free to mingle within the local population within a few days of arriving on island.
Those few days would extend to a mandatory week of quarantine, however, if these individuals make the decision not to get an on-arrival test.
No update was given though, for travelers who have either taken no Covid-19 vaccine, or have only completed half of the prescribed vaccine dosage. These people were told last week that they could be released from quarantine within seven days, if the results of their on-arrival Covid-19 tests – revealed within five days of taking the test – returned negative.
It was not made clear whether the on-arrival tests would remain mandatory for this group, or whether they too would be given the option of taking them to reduce their time in quarantine or spend the entire seven days if they choose not to. The Information Minister could not be reached for clarification on this point.
He clarified during the briefing that the recent adjustments to the requirements would not affect tourists so much, as they would be allowed to enter the hotel properties – considered bio-secure spaces – and ‘vacation’, regardless of their vaccination status.
These rules have been adjusted many times, possibly to ensure the country can benefit as much as possible, when the long-awaited increase in visitor arrivals starts to become a reality.
According to the post-Cabinet report, “British Airways is planning to return to Antigua in full blast by having 4 flights each week, followed by 7 flights per week, and eventually increasing to 9 flights weekly. Virgin Atlantic will also increase its flights to the destination this year.”
One cruise operator has also estimated that their line will transport approximately 200,000 passengers to Antigua between June and December this year.