Antigua and Barbuda eyes June reopening for local economy

Antigua’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne. (Photo: Facebook @Gaston.Browne)

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne has announced plans to reopen the twin-islands’ international borders come June 1, some two months after shutting down to respond to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Browne, in a statement earlier this week, explained that during the fourth virtual meeting of the Economic Recovery Committee (ERC), which he chairs, all 15 members consistently approved reopening the Antiguan economy.

“The ERC unanimously agreed that the time had arrived to re-open the borders of Antigua and Barbuda on June 1, allowing airlines to return and hotels to begin receiving guests,” the statement declared.

Back in late March, Browne mandated Antigua and Barbuda’s borders closed to international traffic.

The V.C. Bird International Airport and the St. John’s Harbour effectively refused to receive airplanes and ships due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Like cause and effect, the tourism-dependent economy ground to a halt as the hotels closed their doors and more than 4,500 workers were laid-off temporarily.

The ERC, in its assessment of the Antiguan coronavirus situation, posited that after two months of decline, the time has arrived to reset the economy and to place it on a path of growth.

“The Prime Minister requested each member of the ERC to indicate if there was any disagreement or if there was unanimity. The 15 participants all agreed that opening the economy on June 1 met with unanimous approval,” the statement continued.

The first flight into Antigua will be on Thursday, June 4.

The American Airlines flight, inbound from Miami, Florida, is expected to arrive around 11:00 pm local time, with the bookings indicating that more than 75 per cent of the passengers arriving are likely to be nationals of Antigua and Barbuda. A trickle of tourists will also be on board, the committee indicated.

“New protocols have been articulated for both groups, involving quarantine and testing, using rapid tests that are 87% accurate. The ERC expressed the view that a return to normalcy is desired as Antigua and Barbuda moves to a COVID-free status. The ERC also recognizes that infected persons may travel to Antigua at some time in the future; however, the infrastructure to handle and effectively deal with all such cases has now been operationalised,” the statement noted.

Antigua and Barbuda have confirmed 25 cases of the coronavirus as at Saturday, May 30.

Of that total, 17 (or roughly 68 per cent) are closed cases as 14 patients have overcome the disease and another three have died from COVID-related complications.