By Orville Williams
The government has taken a bold step to reduce the risk of Covid-19 entering the local population, by mandating that all incoming travellers over the age of 18 – including returning nationals and residents – must be vaccinated to be allowed entry into the country.
The move is part of an aggressive approach by the administration to curb the spread of Covid-19 and one that had been deemed unlikely, considering the possible impact on the tourism sector.
That concern has subsided somewhat, as some of the country’s largest tourism source markets have ramped up their vaccination campaigns, meaning the majority of guests to the island will largely be vaccinated.
In the months past, and until October 1, travellers could enter the island while unvaccinated, though tourists were confined to ‘bio-secure’ accommodations for the duration of their quarantine and nationals/residents were similarly made to quarantine, first in a government facility and most recently, in the same bio-secure accommodations at their own expense.
Fully vaccinated travellers, on the other hand, were allowed freedom to roam the island upon their arrival, as their status meant they posed significantly less risk to the population.
The latter approach will now become the modus operandi, as unvaccinated travellers will be refused entry and could even be made to return to their country of origin.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas explained that the relevant authorities are appropriately authorised to take that sort of action.
“If, even with the best of intentions, there was to be a breach, Port Health has the authority to ask Immigration to have those persons return from whence they came.
“I’m hoping that we do not have many of those instances, but clearly, under the regulations, Port Health can restrict that [guilty] person from clearing Immigration and [they] may have to return from whence they came.”
Despite this stance, Nicholas says such occurrences should be infrequent and maybe even non-existent, as the necessary communication will be done at all levels.
“Every time we take one of these measures, we have to update the travel advisory and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is required to notify the airlines and [the International Air Transport Association] IATA, which has an online computing system that all the airlines share.
“So, at the point of boarding, the airlines are aware of what the entry requirements are for Antigua. It is not a hit or miss endeavour, so the possibility that someone will come here because the airlines would have allowed them, being ignorant to what the travel restrictions are, is not [likely].”
Once the relevant information is submitted by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Nicholas added that the airlines would then have the responsibility of ensuring all their passengers are in compliance.
“Because it is done through IATA, the airlines will face stiff penalties if they breach those requirements,” he said.