Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne welcomed the returned of international flights into the country on Thursday night. He said citizens cannot live their lives hiding from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and insisting that failure to re-open the borders could result in economic collapse, high unemployment and overwhelming poverty.
In a radio and television broadcast, Browne said that the re-opening of the airport on Monday to regional and international air traffic was done amid every precaution being taken “to control the transmission of COVID-19 to the domestic population”.
An American Airline flight arrived on Thursday night and Browne said it brought both nationals and visitors and was piloted by a national of Antigua and Barbuda.
“We will not deny our own nationals, who are abroad, the solace in returning to the common home we share,” he said, adding that the foreigners “will be among the first tourists to our country, since COVID-19 caused the necessary closure of our airport and seaport to human traffic, triggered the shuttering of our hotels, and instigated the worst damage to our economy in many decades”.
Official figures show that Antigua and Barbuda recorded 25 confirmed coronavirus cases, and three deaths.
While Browne acknowledged that the island had been able to curb the spread of the virus, he said it was imperative for citizens to continue to practice the various measures that had been put in place including social distancing and the wearing of masks.
He said rebuilding the local economy was also vital and the re-opening of the borders to tourism can contribute to “sustaining us again, while we adopt new ways of diversifying our economy”.
“Unless we open our borders and restore our economy, we face another powerful enemy, economic collapse, high unemployment, overwhelming poverty, and no financial means to sustain ourselves.”
He told citizens that this is a time to “face the inescapable truth, frankly and boldly, that we cannot take the unviable, risk-averse decision, to keep our country’s borders closed”.