By Orville Williams
Following Antigua and Barbuda’s placement in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “very high” risk category for Covid-19, the government has issued yet another call for residents to get vaccinated, as the placement could negatively affect socio-economic conditions.
In moving the twin-island state from its level three – “high risk” – to level four, the CDC has warned US citizens to avoid travel to the island and also advised citizens who must travel to similarly-placed countries to ensure that they are fully vaccinated.
The US is currently Antigua and Barbuda largest tourism source market, a point that was emphasised by Lionel Hurst, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister.
“Of the 375, 000 tourists who graced our shores in 2019, before the pandemic began, more than 75 percent of that number came from the United States,” he said.
Hurst spoke on what the categorisation means for the country, especially since the economy has only just begun recovering from the losses faced during the lockdowns last year.
“When we are placed in the ‘Category Four’ – which the US has now sensibly done – it means that many Americans will think twice about coming to Antigua and Barbuda. This will, of course, affect not only income, but [also] jobs.
“It will affect the government’s income, because the hotels will import less of everything. The people of Antigua and Barbuda who are earning less, will purchase less from stores and [the stores] will import even less, meaning the government will earn even less from Customs revenues and the like.”
Despite the constant back-and-forth about vaccinations, the Chief of Staff reiterated that it has gotten to a point far beyond ‘personal choice,’ with the very way of life of many residents now under threat.
“We are attempting to share with the people of Antigua and Barbuda this link between being regarded as a fourth category country with [regard to] Covid and being a tourism-dependent destination.
“It imperils that tourism upon which we are all dependent in order to purchase food, clothing, building materials [and] all the necessities that we need – electricity and water as well, for that matter, because when the heads of families are unemployed, what usually happens is that they begin to default in the payments of [these] very important [utilities].”
He also issued a heartfelt plea to the unvaccinated, to help in arresting the spread of the virus and the deaths that have been arising as a result.
“We beg Antiguans and Barbudans to go get vaccinated, because we know that by being vaccinated the likelihood of your passing on the disease to anyone is greatly reduced, and the likelihood of you getting sick and even facing death is also greatly reduced.
“We beg you, please, go get vaccinated. That’s what the mandate requires of you and now is the time to act.”