By Orville Williams
Persons arriving into Antigua, or who are already in the country and must be quarantined in a government facility, will now be expected to cover the cost of their meals for the duration of their stay.
This is one of two policy changes the government has made in light of the current circumstances, with the other being a return to the centralisation of quarantined individuals, through placement in public quarantine facilities.
Earlier this year, when the quarantine policy was developed, the government had outlined certain elements – including the cost of meals – that would be covered by the quarantined individuals. This was met with public outcry, to which the government responded by agreeing to cover the costs.
The plan to make quarantine in a government facility mandatory for persons arriving into the country also faced pushback, with many arguing that they should be allowed the opportunity to quarantine at home – in the case of residents – or an appropriate accommodation of their choosing, in the case of visitors.
The government again responded to this complaint, by largely allowing persons to self-quarantine, rather than force them into a government facility – which had limits on the number of persons that could be accommodated at any one time.
According to Information Minister Melford Nicholas, a strain has now been placed on both these scenarios, through the excessive costs associated with providing the meals in government quarantine, as well as the negligence of individuals who continue to violate the conditions of their self-quarantine.
“When we had announced the regime in the first instance, we had indicated that we want persons to be able to pay for their meals and we had nominated a fee of $100 per day to take care of the meals. There was some significant pushback and the government relented at the time.
“Now, having persons remain in quarantine with three meals per day has proven to be quite costly and it has ticked up beyond two million dollars so far. The government sees, however, that we have to revert to a degree of centralising the quarantine management, because of the abuse of that process and the breach of trust,” Nicholas explained.
The solution identified for the latter is the acquisition of tracking bracelets – which should come on stream soon – to ensure compliance with the quarantine protocols. As far as the government quarantine is concerned, the Jolly Beach Resort has been announced as the new facility. Previously, the government used the Hawksbill and the Halcyon hotels.
These, Nicholas says, will now afford the government greater control of the quarantine process, especially with the increase in travel to the country.
“With the dual effect of the bracelets and now the inclusion of Jolly Beach to be able to accommodate a larger number of persons during quarantine, that is going to be the approach of the government going forward.
“The other policy position is that persons who are returning here to Antigua, where they are not going to be permitted to be quarantined at their homes and they will have to be quarantined in the public facility, they will be required – and we are reverting to the original position – to pay the $100 ECD per day for their meals.
“This is a policy change and it has to do with the overall cost on the government, which is significant. What we want to advise our residents abroad if they’re returning home for vacation or family events, they should make the necessary provisions to ensure that they can afford a stay in the quarantine facility,” Nicholas said.
The minister noted that the amendments are similar to the approach taken by some other countries in the region. He also assured that the government is prepared to exercise some discretion in certain circumstances.