Sunset over English Harbour view from Shirley Heights, Antigua. Photographer: Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld/Moment RF

By Orville Williams

Antigua Observer- Passengers arriving in Antigua and Barbuda will now be allowed to complete only one week of quarantine – instead of the previous two weeks – once they can prove that they have been fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19.

The Cabinet announced that adjustment to the regulations yesterday, joining many countries around the world that are allowing increased freedoms to people who have been vaccinated against the virus.

Along with valid proof of their two-dose, or in the case of some, single dose vaccinations, incoming travelers will be expected to provide a negative Covid-19 PCR test on arrival at the VC Bird International Airport, before being placed into a mandatory seven-day quarantine.

On the fifth day of the quarantine, each traveler will be required to take another PCR test and will then be allowed into the population after completing the seven days if the test returns negative. If the test should return positive, the individual will be isolated as per the existing quarantine protocols.

This will come as welcome news to nationals who reside abroad and residents who travel frequently, as many have complained that the two-week quarantine was not only expensive, but also inconvenient for those looking to do business.

Tourists, however, would still be allowed to “quarantine” at their hotels, which are still considered bio-secure facilities.

Concerns have been raised about the rush to travel, given the sustained periods of lockdown in many countries, and the fact that some unscrupulous persons may look to exploit the allowances being given by countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, by producing falsified vaccination documentation.

Considering this recent change in the regulations, Cabinet Spokesperson and Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, was questioned how the authenticity of that vaccine information would be determined.

He explained that the ‘vaccine passport’ concept would be relied on in the long term, with countries having digital access to the information that is, for now, largely being produced through a physical document.

“[This] is certainly an issue for all jurisdictions, [and] what is being contemplated is a global repository…where one would be able to access the information, to validate or authenticate the presentation of a physical document,” he said.

Until that is finalised and put in place though, Nicholas said the country will rely upon the experience of the port health personnel, who he says would have been gathering that experience since earlier in the pandemic.

“As of last June, when we opened the borders, the port health would have aggregated some experience, in terms of being able to filter some of these false representations and they will build upon that.

“It’s the same thing that a computer model will do – referring to artificial intelligence – they will look at past experiences and look at these flaws.

“The real foolproof mechanism, [however], would be to be able to be participating in a global vaccine passport.”

Nicholas added that the vaccine information will likely be linked through the International Air Transport Association (IATA) platform – which is accessed by border authorities globally – to ensure that authorities in each receiving country can view data from the country of origin, toward authenticating any vaccination information presented by a traveller on arrival.