ST.JOHN’S, Antigua – The Antigua and Barbuda government says it will re-open its international airport on June 1 as the country moves to rehabilitate its economy in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that forced a virtual shutdown of the island over the past seven weeks.

In addition, the government said that it will reduce the curfew hours from 9.00 pm to 5.00 am (local time) daily and that it will on Thursday seek parliamentary approval for a further 60 day extension of the state of emergency (SOE) to July 31.

“The V.C. Bird International Airport will open to commercial traffic on June 1, 2020. A number of international carriers are expected to begin service to Antigua within days of that date. Certain protocols will apply, both at the time of embarkation of travellers at the source markets, and upon their arrival in Antigua,” according to the statement issued following the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

It said the re-opening of the airport is also to accommodate “returning nationals and guests.

“However, these individuals entering the country will be subject to strict health protocols to avoid any COVID spread among the domestic population and possible community spread.

“Accordingly, all travellers will be required to take a rapid COVID test indicating that they are COVID free. Returning nationals will be quarantined for 14 days and hotels will serve as enclave properties for guests, whose interaction with employees and other locals will be limited and subject to established protocols.”

The government said that it has also agreed to waive all duties and taxes on the importation of building material, furniture, fixtures and fittings for all investment properties, to include apartments, accommodation and commercial buildings.

“As we relax these restrictions, greater vigilance and continued personal responsibility are required to control any future spread of COVID. All citizens and residents are expected to continue to strictly observe and adhere to the health protocols of social distancing, good hygiene etiquette and the mandatory and appropriate wearing of a mask,” the Cabinet statement noted.

It noted that as the Cabinet moves to re-opening the economy “in order to provide opportunities for many workers to earn an income,” government has decided that “all investment properties that commence their construction within this period will be allowed waiver of duties and customary taxes on building supplies, fixtures and equipment.

Construction is encouraged with social distancing, hand-washing and other healthy practices that will inhibit the spread of the Coronavirus.

“Barbers, beauty salons, nail salons will all require a certificate from the Ministry of Health indicating that the establishment has been examined and is approved for operation. It is to be placed in a prominent place for examination by customers and Health Inspection Officers”

The Minister of Health, Molwyn Joseph, has informed Cabinet that only two known persons are now infected with the coronavirus here.

“There may be others who are a-symptomatic and may pose a threat to their daily contacts. However, the data with which the Ministry is now working, it is reasonable to conclude that: “We are virtually COVID-19,” he said.

“Under these circumstances, the Cabinet agreed that the importation of the disease is likely to be the challenge which the people and Government will face. In that regard, the Cabinet determined that managing the risk is now the dominant mode of operation.”

CMC