Nation’s ‘Covid-free’ status could change in coming months

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By Elesha George

[email protected]

Antigua and Barbuda currently has no clinical active Covid-19 cases, health officials announced on Monday.

According to Minister of Health, Molwyn Joseph, “no one — who has been tested and identified as having Covid — has it anymore”.

That means all 23 of the people who contracted the virus and survived have received two consecutive Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) negative tests.

However, one former patient remains at Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) even though he has been cleared of having the virus. That person is clinically in a position to leave the hospital but Joseph said the authorities are not confident that the patient would get the care he needs at home.

“We had two individuals at Mount St John’s Medical Centre; they were on ventilators. Of the two, one has been discharged from the hospital and there is only one individual in the hospital now. That person doesn’t have Covid anymore, but he is being cared for at the hospital because of the type of care that is required,” Joseph explained on national TV.

No one in Barbuda is known to have been infected with Covid-19 and Antigua’s apparent elimination of the virus puts it on track to be declared Covid-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Neighbouring island, St Kitts and Nevis which achieved its Covid-free status on May 19, is the only Eastern Caribbean country recognised as doing so.

However, while health authorities await the complete recovery of the last patient infected with Covid, Joseph warned that it is still too early to celebrate.

While recognising the efforts of health officials, law enforcement and the country’s Cabinet of Ministers, he said, “I’m not yet ready to celebrate because this is only a battle in the war against Covid.  The war is not over, so it’s not celebration time”.

“The greatest challenge that we face is that in the first week of July we are likely to have more flights coming in and hence a higher volume of people coming through VC Bird airport,” he shared.

In fact, the minister believes that cases of Covid-19 could surface by the end of September, when an influx of people will be in the country.

With open borders and no restrictions on travellers from countries most severely affected by the virus, the minister remarked that “within the next three months – July, August and September – we’re going to have approximately 12,000 to 15,000 people coming to Antigua via air – visitors and residents of Antigua and Barbuda [and] it is likely that there would be a Covid case”.

Joseph said after weeks of meetings with airport management, it has been determined that physical changes to the facility are necessary to create more space for health and customs screening.

He added that an agreement had been reached on Monday regarding how the expansion would be facilitated, but stopped short of giving any specifics.

The government, by mandating and later ordering stricter enforcement of the wearing of masks, has warned residents against becoming lackadaisical and assuming that the virus no longer poses a health risk.

The government, through the Quarantine Authority, has been attempting to better prepare the country, as the minister threw his attention to the Infectious Disease Control Centre which has 17 isolation rooms, oxygen and medical air, as well as crucial negative air machines that can prevent the highly contagious virus from escaping the room.

However, Antigua and Barbuda has many variables against it, including its current inability to independently test for the virus, running low on swabs (20,000 swabs have been ordered), and a second hospital facility meant to help deal with any spread of Covid not yet completed.

With its current capacity, the number of people tested has increased by near 1,050 percent since April, 2, and about 250 per cent since borders reopened on June 1. The number of people recorded as dying from Covid-10 complications remains at three.

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