By Carlena Knight
There was an evident divide between members of the public when they weighed in on a recent announcement that government could be considering lifting the mandatory vaccine travel policy.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne made the disclosure over the weekend, while speaking on his radio show, indicating that the government is moving towards a “policy of personal responsibility” where people will be required to “be more vigilant and manage the risk associated with the Covid-19 virus”.
The development is also coming at a time when the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged nations to lift or ease Covid-19 travel restrictions, saying they have proven to be of little public health value, while being detrimental to economic growth.
If approved, it would mean that instead of persons having to be fully vaccinated to enter Antigua and Barbuda, they would be required to either present a negative PCR or rapid antigen test, whether or not they are fully vaccinated.
For some, implementing a measure like this one would be welcomed news as it would more than likely boost the tourism industry and the economy on a whole “as it would bring in more money as more persons would travel here”.
“This move would definitely help to stimulate the economy. We are going to be living with Covid for a long, long time so we have to put measures in place so that the economy can continue to grow and men and women, poor people, will be able to get jobs to feed their families,” one person said.
For others, the possibility of seeing family members who haven’t been able to visit for some time is another benefit of the possible removal of the mandatory requirement.
On the other hand, some people expressed the belief that the mandatory vaccine requirement policy should never have been implemented in the first place.
“Personally, from the get go, I feel like this should have been implemented instead of forcing, yet still say you’re not forcing everyone to be vaccinated in order to make a livelihood, much less alone travel. I think our focus should be on the actual spreading of the virus because that is the core problem.
“We believed in the Covid test from the get go, we haven’t lost any hope in both the PCR and rapid antigen test, so let’s still continue to trust in the test and allow people to make conscious decisions for themselves without being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it,” one individual added.
However, there were still a few who believed that the mandatory vaccination policy should remain.
“Most people would like everything to return back to normal; however, Covid is still around. Certain requirements cannot be dropped, such as this one. Statistics is clear in showing that ever since the vaccines were introduced, the majority of the people who have passed away were unvaccinated. We can’t have that burden,” one individual said.
“If you are going to allow a lot of unvaccinated people, I think that’s going to put us at more risk. We should stay with the policy that we have now and just try to add some stricter measures here locally to try and get the cases down. Plus, there’s the new variant out and we already have it but what we don’t want is to have it spread even worse,” added another.
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 in order 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, no more than four days old, to be allowed entry.
The matter of mandatory vaccine policy is one that has been in the public domain for some time now with the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association being the first organisation to call for such a policy to be instituted while other individuals, especially Antiguans in the diaspora criticising the move.