ST.JOHN’S, Antigua – Antigua and Barbuda says it will welcome its first international flight on June 4, since the island shut its borders, as part of the efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Tourism Minister, Charles Fernandez, speaking during a virtual meeting on “Reopening Antigua and Barbuda For Tourism” on Monday, said that an American Airlines flight, from Miami, is due to land on June 4, bringing the first set of international passenger flight in 10 weeks.
He said it will mark the start of a slow, phased recovery for the sector, and is set to be followed by the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Airlines (CAL) in mid-June and British Airways in July.
Fernandez said that the island would be seeking to ensure international confidence in the country’s ability to keep people safe, and that staving off a second wave of infections will prove crucial.
“Everything will be in place to ensure we don’t get a lot of negative press … and beaten up on social media, with people questioning whether we really are ready,” Fernandez said, noting that tourism officials had been hard at work for weeks so they can “hit the ground running”.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Colin James, in confirming the American Airline flight, told the meeting that “American Airlines is the first airline indicating that they will be coming back on the fourth of June; that will be a daily flight from Miami.
“AA has indicated that they do not have schedules yet, for New York and Charlotte. Those will, most likely, be later in July. And as New York is still a hot spot for COVID-19 cases, it would be one of the last cities that we would actually open up,” he said.
“Other US airlines, for example Delta and JetBlue, have given us no confirmation, but they will, most likely, take their cue from AA,” James said.
The authorities have not yet announced the date for the re-opening of the VC Bird International Airport, but visitors may have to undergo a COVID-19 test, at least 48 hours before boarding the flight, among other proposed measures.
Fernandez said health officials were confident that rapid virus tests, conducted overseas, will have a 90 percent accuracy rate, by the end of this month.
“We are also looking at removing immigration booths, when leaving Antigua and Barbuda, so we have less interaction and less gatherings of people. The idea is to get people in and out, very quickly,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez told the meeting that all hotel staff will be tested for the coronavirus, before going back to work. Uniforms will be laundered and collected on site, and staff will be required to change into them, on the premises, before beginning a shift.
“When they finish, they will take off their uniform, leave it to be laundered, put back on their own clothes and go their merry way home,” he added.
Tour guides will also have to be tested for the virus, before resuming duties.
“Even though we can never be 100 percent, the idea is to be as rigid as possible, to prevent any kind of spread.
“We have been fairly fortunate in the English-speaking Caribbean to have seen a low density spread…. We believe there is opportunity for us, even though we won’t be up to 100 percent and things will be slow, to benefit this year from a robust restart to the sector.
“It is definitely looking promising, in that there is still a lot of interest among people wanting to come to the Caribbean,” Fernandez said.