By Orville Williams
Travellers to Antigua and Barbuda who are not fully vaccinated can expect to face a sharp increase in the cost of their mandatory quarantine, following the revision of those protocols.
The Cabinet disclosed yesterday that “almost immediately”, all incoming travellers who have not taken a complete dosage of a Covid-19 vaccine will be required to ‘quarantine’ at pre-booked bio-secure facilities – like hotels, Airbnbs and guest houses – that have been certified by the Central Board of Health (CBH).
This follows the news that due to its imminent return to the tourism market, the Jolly Beach Resort will no longer operate as a government quarantine facility.
The daily cost for a quarantine stay at Jolly Beach was approximately EC$82, which could be considered cheap, as it included meals along with the accommodation. The cost now for travellers in these bio-secure facilities will definitely be greater, as Airbnb stays on average cost around US$50 per night.
This move is sure to raise concerns within the population, due to the added costs, but the government maintains that the alternative is to take advantage of the public vaccination programme and get inoculated for free.
Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, insisted yesterday that while these new requirements mean the quarantine process will no longer be centralised, the authorities will continue to monitor these places for adherence to the restrictions.
“We are aware that the practice has been, once persons get into hotels and these [other] bio-secure facilities, then there is no control of who comes to visit them or whether or not they can escape these facilities,” he said.
“Clearly, being able to retain them and restrict their movements within those facilities is an issue of consideration and that’s where we’re working with the security forces.
“The tracking bracelets are one of the regimes that [will] help in that arrangement. We may also have to consider providing further manned security at those facilities across the island, to ensure that we can contain persons.
“We are in receipt of a number of bracelets which have corrected the problems that we’ve had with the original stock and we continue to work on that particular regime, to ensure that the port health officials have all of the elements in their armory to be able to ensure that we’re kept safe,” Nicholas explained.
While the cost to the partially or unvaccinated travellers will inevitably increase, the cost to unvaccinated workers in the tourism sector has gone down somewhat, with an adjustment to the testing requirements.
A compromise was reached just recently, to allow the unvaccinated workers to continue their jobs as normal, but commit to weekly Covid testing as a means of protecting their colleagues, the visitors they would expect to interact with and the wider population.
That arrangement, Nicholas confirmed, has been reduced to fortnightly Covid testing, following engagements with the Vendors Association.
The Information Minister also previously confirmed that the Cabinet would consider adjusting the protocols for transportation from VC Bird International Airport, which currently requires travellers to exclusively utilise the taxi services there in order to minimise contact with other members of the public, thereby reducing the risk of viral transmission.
This policy, he said, would remain for at least the rest of this month, despite the fact that fully vaccinated travellers can move about on arrival in the country without any significant restrictions.