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New travel rules to permit rapid tests for entry into Antigua and Barbuda

By Orville Williams

[email protected]

Travellers to Antigua and Barbuda will soon have the option to choose between a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and a rapid antigen Covid-19 test in meeting the pre-departure requirements to be allowed into the country.

The adjustment to the rules will come into effect on November 17 and a new travel advisory will be released shortly, detailing that and the requirement for incoming visitors to be fully vaccinated.

Allowing the rapid antigen tests – which must be presented before boarding a plane to Antigua – is a significant deviation from what has been the norm since July 2020, when the mandatory testing requirement was first implemented. Since then, only PCR tests have been accepted by the health authorities, who have consistently referred to them as the “gold standard” of testing.

Compared to the rapid antigen tests, PCR tests are more sensitive and have accuracy that nears 100 percent, though they take a much longer time to produce results.

According to the government, however, the shift in approach is down to factors including a high confidence in the prevailing conditions, both at home and abroad.

“It’s confidence in terms of yes, we’re satisfied that a greater percentage of our people here – particularly those on the frontline – have been vaccinated. Our level of confidence in utilising these tests [also] has a lot to do with the number of persons who are vaccinated in [our tourism] source markets,” Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, told yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing.

“It is also a function of cost and availability in some of our source markets, to ensure that we can boost our tourism product…there are a number of persons who would wish to avail themselves of a vacation in Antigua and sometimes the four-day window for PCR tests may present them with particular challenges.”

The adjustment is likely to be applauded by players within the tourism sector as it could mean an increase in future bookings, and it has already been welcomed by some tourists who told Observer their previous plans to travel to the island had been ‘held to ransom’ by the PCR requirement. PCR tests also tend to be significantly more expensive than their rapid counterparts.

In territories like the UK and the US, certain rapid tests are allowed as part of their entry requirements, based on pronouncements from agencies like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Those seals of approval are another reason behind the Antigua and Barbuda government’s confidence to allow the rapid tests and the point was made clear that the rule change will not extend to every rapid test available, but only to those approved by the aforementioned CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

The government assured too, that the adjustment has been okayed by the country’s top health authority and that a high level of vigilance will be maintained to prevent any breaches.

“We’re satisfied, even where a person would show up in the jurisdiction that may have come through without an acceptable test, that they will be required to have a PCR test done at the point of entry…so it’s confidence on a number of levels.

“I think we have looked at all the possibilities and the Chief Medical Officer did give us her particular responses to the issue before giving her consent that we should move along this route,” Nicholas added.

The minister later told Observer that citizens and residents of Antigua and Barbuda coming into the country need only show proof they have had one dose of a Covid jab, rather than being required to be fully jabbed as is the rule for tourists.

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