Investigation launched into airline that made risky diversion

Charles “Max” Fernandez
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By Elesha George

[email protected]

An airline is under investigation for circumventing Antigua and Barbuda’s travel policy when it boarded a number of passengers from the Dominican Republic (DR) without declaring it to the Immigration authority on arrival into VC Bird International Airport.

Tourism Minister Charles “Max” Fernandez said the flight had been recorded as coming from the British Virgin Islands (BVI) when it actually originated from the DR.

“The persons came in with flight plans amended and that should not have been, and I know that that is something the authorities are looking into,” he told Observer, adding, “I don’t know what the repercussions will be, but I know that the investigations are ongoing”.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne informed Parliament that the travellers were transited through Tortola and brought to Antigua.

“There was a particular Caribbean airline that circumvented our policy [and] picked up a group of individuals from the Dominican Republic when we have a temporary ban on direct travel of citizens from the Dominican Republic,” he explained.

It is unclear when the airline arrived in Antigua, but Browne told MPs that he had only been informed that very afternoon.

He also suggested that the government has grounds to take punitive action against the airline but said that no decision had been made yet.

“Here’s a situation in which an airline would’ve literally, for profit, undermined our protocols and brought in individuals from a country that is considered to be high risk without declaring that they actually boarded in the Dominican Republic,” he remarked, before moving on to debate in support of an extension of the State of Emergency until March 31.  

BVI travellers, including those transiting, can travel under special conditions since that country is one of the participating states in the Caricom travel bubble.

Those passengers, like a number of others from other countries in the region, are exempt from quarantine once they provide a negative Covid-19 RT-PCR test taken within seven days before embarking on their journey.

Observer was unable to reach the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, to determine whether any of the imported Covid-19 cases originated from that flight.

Meanwhile, Barbuda MP Trevor Walker highlighted another loophole which he asked the prime minister to investigate.

According to the MP, people living on Antigua have been travelling to the sister isle to escape Covid-19 restrictions on the mainland.

“Since Barbuda is Covid-free, persons are organising parties from Antigua, in Barbuda. Barbuda is a free haven; it’s a place where you can go and relax. Nobody bothers us because no Covid [is] over there, so they’re coming by the boatloads to Barbuda,” he said.

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