Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne last evening welcomed the return of international flights after an American Airline landed with both nationals and visitors into the country.
In a radio and television broadcast, Browne argued that citizens cannot hide from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and failure to re-open the borders could result in economic collapse, high unemployment and overwhelming poverty.
He then explained that the reopening of the airport on Monday to regional and international air traffic was carried out with the precautions “to control the transmission of COVID-19 to the domestic population”.
The Government of Antigua & Barbuda had before announced the reopening of the country’s tourism and hospitality industry as they prepared to welcome the first guests back on island, including international and regional travelers, utilising a phased and controlled approach.
“We will not deny our own nationals who are abroad, the solace in returning to the common home we share,” Browne 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”.
The prime minister said no one in that country had “escaped the ravages that COVID-19 has visited upon our economy”, adding that some had either lost their jobs while others suffered the loss of loved ones. adding that “in one way or the other, it has touched us all.
Browne said that his country’s battle with the pandemic has not been easy. But he pointed out that safeguarding the lives of people was and continues to be Antigua and Barbuda’s principal objective.
While he acknowledged that the island had been able to curb the spread of the virus here, 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 reopening of the borders to tourism can contribute to “sustaining us again, while we adopt new ways of diversifying our economy.
To this end, the country has introduced a series of travel safety protocols that will impact every element of the visitor experience — from arrivals at ports of entry, through ground transfers, resort accommodations, restaurants, tours, and attractions.
“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,” Browne pointed out.
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.
“We cannot pretend that our nation’s economy and our family prospects have not been severely hurt from the disruption of tourism and the lockdown of our country caused by the threat of COVID,” the prime minister reasoned.
He added that his Administration is deeply aware of the effects that private sector lay-offs have brought to families and, for this reason, decided to reopen the economy.
Notwithstanding, he warned that “the challenges we now confront will not be overcome any time soon”.