With increased cruise tourist arrivals, Minister of Tourism Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez says authorities are doing all they can to help protect citizens from transmitting the coronavirus.
Despite the recent surge in COVID-19 numbers, Antigua and Barbuda’s cruise arrivals have remained unaffected since cruise ships returned to the twin-island nation during the last quarter of 2021.
The January cruise arrival calendar released by the Antigua & Barbuda Port Authority revealed a packed itinerary with 30th January being the only vacant day on the schedule.
On several days throughout the month, Antigua and Barbuda will host as many as six vessels across its several ports in St. John’s, Falmouth and Barbuda. Only three vessels have cancelled their January calls to the island.
But Minister Fernandez is allaying fears that the increase in tourist arrivals will spark a large local outbreak of coronavirus.
Fernandez strongly believes authorities in Antigua and Barbuda have implemented the best available screening programmes, and other protocols, to safeguard against the transmission of the virus among the vibrant tourist sector and general population.
“I am convinced that what we are doing through the port health and the Ministry of Health is sufficient as can be expected to the optimum level in terms of protecting our people,” Fernandez said.
“We within the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health have set about to train all of our frontline tourism operators, our hotel employees, our taxi operators, everybody coming in touch with them, to protect them. So far we have seen no real contagion coming out from our guests and to Antiguans in the industry.
“What I believe is if we can keep the protocols in place such as face mask wearing and so on, that will protect us even further. There is just so much that you can do. You test today and have a negative test coming in, and probably the case load is not high enough to register, two days it registers.
“But if you are staying in a certified location, whether it is Airbnb or a hotel and the protocols are followed there will be that added protection for our people,” he added.
The tourism minister believes that returning nationals, not visitors to the island, are who continue to pose the greatest threat of transmitting the virus within the population.
“I think what is the biggest achilles heel, not just for us in Antigua but throughout the islands, is when our people come home some of them may be inadvertently asymptomatic and they ended up partying, hugging, moving into the community without a face mask, going to weddings, funerals, baptism and the likes you end up with a situation where that in turn creates a huge spread,” Minister Fernandez said.
“So I think that all in all everything that can be done is being done and wherever there is an opportunity to improve I know that the Ministry of Health is on top of it.
“I can tell you that every week that we have had Cabinet since the pandemic we have gotten a report and have discussions with the technicians from the Ministry of Health. So at no point have we had just run or flown blindly.
“We have always been very cautious and I think that the numbers speak for themselves, in terms of the number of arriving passengers who have come into Antigua who have been positive and have created any kind of spread.”