By Shermain Bique-Charles
A proposal to allow unvaccinated travellers to enter Antigua and Barbuda with just a negative rapid antigen or PCR test was placed on hold by the government, until more data can be gathered.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently said vaccination restrictions inhibit travel and increase travel costs – but don’t make travel any less risky. The body has been encouraging countries to move towards removing vaccine mandates saying they are economically detrimental.
Yesterday, Information Minister Melford Nicholas told the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing that the matter was examined and a decision was taken to keep all existing protocols in place for now, until the matter is reviewed again next week.
Vice Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (ABHTA) Alex de Brito said such a decision, if implemented, would not persuade all hoteliers to conform – at least for now.
De Brito told Observer that while the decision has not yet been enacted, hoteliers will keep their policy for safety reasons.
“This vaccine issue has divided many people…I believe the vaccinations are important and some of our guests, who have been coming here for the past six months, did so because they feel safe when most of the hotel workers and other guests are vaccinated,” he said.
De Brito, who owns Galley Bay Resort, is of the strong opinion that the vaccine requirement should remain, suggesting that some of the other requirements like the Covid tests could change.
“As a professional, I think my staff will feel safer if all my guests are vaccinated [and] my guests will feel safer if all my staff are vaccinated. It will allow us to give a better service,” he added.
He admitted that while some hotels may — for reasons of their own — decide to end the requirement, most of them would likely keep the measure in place.
“Some may keep the requirements, others may think it might be better for them not to do so. I don’t think it will be a joint decision from all hotels,” de Brito added.
As it currently stands, guests 12 years and older are required to show proof of vaccination before entry into local resorts.
Executive Chairman of the ABHTA Vernon Jeffers also said there is no empirical evidence to suggest that hoteliers should move away from that policy.
“We need to stand as hoteliers that our position of incoming guests having to be vaccinated will still stand. We have an association and none of our members have told us that they are changing their position on vaccination,” Jeffers said.
All this comes as Antigua and Barbuda’s former chief health inspector, Lionel Michael, is suggesting a tiered approach to dealing with people who are either fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or unvaccinated.
He told Observer that this would be a better option, signalling that he had never been in favour of mandatory jabs.
Michael, who is currently the Chief Health Environment Officer for the BVI, said a structured policy should be put in place before the change is made.
The most recent travel advisory issued by the government stipulates that all arriving and transiting passengers aged 18 and over, including returning residents, must provide evidence of having received both doses of a two-dose WHO-approved Covid-19 vaccine, or a full dose of a single-dose WHO-approved Covid-19 vaccine to be permitted entry into Antigua and Barbuda.
Currently, fully vaccinated arriving passengers must also present proof of a negative PCR or approved rapid antigen test taken no more than four days prior, to be allowed entry.