By Shermain Bique-Charles
Foreign Affairs Minister EP Chet Greene has attempted to bring some balance to widespread speculation on Wednesday, after a plane touched down at VC Bird International Airport carrying more than 150 Chinese nationals.
Many queried if the passengers were to be quarantined, and others raised questions about the purpose of the charter flight. There were also allegations that the visitors were able to bypass immigration processing, and were not required to comply with social distancing rules.
However, Greene said that nothing could be further from the truth, explaining that these nationals were simply part of a rotation of Chinese workers for various projects on the island.
“It’s a pity when everything in a country becomes political,” Greene remarked, saying “at every step of the way the Gaston Browne administration has been very cautious about the management of the coronavirus pandemic.”
He explained that the workers are employed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation Ltd (CCECC), the same company responsible for the new port facilities and the new Chinese embassy building.
Greene said that the arriving workers all came with negative PCR tests, as verified by medical professionals, are expected to be quarantined for 14 days, and are subject to the laws of Antigua and Barbuda.
“They are quarantined in centralised locations and the Ministry of Health has oversight responsibility to ensure that all requirements are fully adhered to,” Greene added.
A total of 156 Chinese nationals arrived, of which 15 were in transit to Dominica.
Wednesday’s airport activity also saw 163 Chinese leaving Antigua.
Greene said the company decided to use a charter flight, as opposed to taking various flights from around the world.
“This should give the Antiguan public further satisfaction because the usual transportation of these workers would be commercial airlines through UK, [the USA] and Canada, but the company decided to do a charter. All the workers came together so there’s no possibility of them contracting the virus while in transit,” he explained.
The men are also expected to commence construction of the CCECC headquarters in Antigua and Barbuda
“This Chinese construction firm is a global entity and so we look at the economic benefit to the country by having them headquartered here,” Greene added.