By Elesha George
Covid-19 has placed a further cost on travel, as countries around the world attempt to reopen their economies for business. In Antigua and Barbuda, travellers are required to have a certificate declaring them Covid-free – without which they will be unable to enter the country.
Some exiting the nation must also have a coronavirus test if they are heading to a country that requires it. For that, the hospital charges EC$300/US$100.
“We want you to have that PCR test; if you don’t have it, don’t get on the plane,” Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, Molwyn Joseph, told would-be visitors.
The latest travel advisory issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Trade states that even while travellers should carry with them evidence of a negative Covid test, done within the last seven days, they may also be required to undergo testing for the virus on arrival, or at the hotel or place of lodging as determined by the health authorities.
It is a step towards ensuring people take personal responsibility for their health status in order to keep the number of confirmed Covid tests at bay.
The cost of Covid tests for outgoing passengers also helps the Antigua and Barbuda government recoup a small part of the more than 40 per cent dip in revenue since the borders closed late March.
“We have seen a dramatic reduction in our revenue as a result of Covid – minimum of about 40 per cent of our revenue – we still have to find money to feed our citizens and residents returning home who are going into quarantine at Hawksbill and they pay nothing and they get a first-class facility and a good meal – three meals a day,” explained the minister.
Joseph said all this to explain why the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) implemented the EC$300 charge, adding that the government had “gone beyond any expectation in trying to absorb fees and costs during this Covid situation”.
“At some point, someone has to pay, and if you’re going overseas and the destination requires that you have a Covid test, it’s reasonable that you pay for it,” Joseph remarked.
But the major health insurance companies in Antigua and Barbuda do not cover the cost of the Covid-19 test and the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) is advising contributors to bring in their receipts for the test for when a decision is later made on whether or not they will cover the tests.
Brysons Insurance and State Insurance, under which government employee are covered, only accept the cost if a person is referred by a doctor based on exhibited symptoms of the virus. They do not cover the test if its purpose is for travel.
Neither do companies like Sagicor Life Inc. and Selkridge Insurance cover the cost of the Covid-19 test.
Some companies likely have exclusion clauses for communicable diseases and epidemics/pandemics and so sickness benefits apply when a customer is referred by a doctor.
Students studying abroad, according to the health minister, are however exempt from the fee following a decision by Cabinet to waive that cost. Minister Joseph advises parents of these students to contact the Ministry of Education to certify their child’s status as a student, in order for the fee to be waived at the hospital.