The Antigua and Barbuda government has given Barbados until the end of Tuesday to indicate why it has placed the island on a list of countries deemed medium-risk for the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Foreign Affairs Mnister Everly Paul ‘Chet’ Greene said failure to respond would leave St. John’s with no other option but to take the matter before the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Earlier this month, Antigua and Barbuda had sought a response from the Mia Mottley administration as to why the island had been placed on a high risk status given that St. John’s response to the virus has been “exemplary” and that “the question begs itself what is the motivation.
Since then Barbados has upgraded the island to “medium risk” status, but Greene said that would also mean that Antiguans and Barbudans would have to be placed in quarantine for 14 days on their visit to Barbados.
“We have not written to or referred the matter to CARICOM…as yet, but clearly if by the end of the day this persists and the Barbados government insists on that particular position we will have to ask CARICOM to intervene,” Greene said on Observer Radio here.
“What we are asking primarily is an appreciation, an understanding of exactly what standards you apply. We don’t know, if we know the standard is two cases per 100,000 then we will tell our population Barbados is a place to avoid because we are at six cases and therefore you have to go into quarantine.
“But not knowing what standards are being applied it makes it difficult for us to relate to our citizens to even ask the (Barbados based) US embassy for some kind of facilitation that will allow our citizens to be serviced,” Greene said, adding “it is really vexing and I can understand the frustration of the population especially those persons who use Barbados for various reasons and in the context of CARICOM.
“It really does not bowl well for what the region speaks about so glowingly but in effect, practice shows different”.
Bridgetown said that in the latest updated COVID-19 travel protocols earlier this month had listed Antigua and Barbuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Martinique, Norway, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates as the new entrants into the high-risk category.
They join 36 others including Barbados’ major tourism markets, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, as well as the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Five countries are now deemed medium-risk for entry. These are Australia, Bermuda, New Zealand, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. There are only two countries in the low-risk category – Egypt and Greenland, while six are categorised as very low risk, namely Anguilla, China, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, and St. Kitts and Nevis.
According to the Barbados authorities, it is mandatory that all persons travelling to Barbados from high and medium risk countries have a negative COVID-19 PCR test done at an accredited or certified facility within three days prior to arrival.
They said persons arriving from Canada, however, are allowed to be tested on arrival in Barbados, if they are unable to receive their test results in time for departure from their country.
Greene said that the current decision by Bridgetown to place Antigua and Barbuda in the medium-risk category is still unacceptable, based on the island’s current COVID-19 figures.
Antigua and Barbuda has so far recorded 131 cases of the virus and three deaths, while Barbados has 243 cases and seven deaths.
“We are not getting any forthright response to the particular question of what standard are you using…countries with higher numbers than Antigua and Barbuda continue to be recognised in Barbados as low risk, so, therefore, it is not far-fetched for persons to be coming to their own suspicion about what could be the trigger for what we are seeing there,” Greene told radio listeners.
“From our point of view we continue to ask the question and we will continue to do so until such time we get a response…,” he added.
In agreeing to establish the Bubble, the regional countries were guided by a comprehensive report from the CARPHA which also provided recommendations on how the Bubble would operate, and laid out the eligibility criteria for countries to participate.
Last week, St, Kitts-Nevis became the latest country to opt-out of the “CARICOM Travel Bubble” citing a number of health concerns to its citizens and residents.
“Participation in the CARICOM Bubble with countries of higher risk assessment and less stringent protocols would expose citizens and residents to elevated health risks,’ Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris said on his television programme “Leadership Matters”.
In agreeing to establish the Bubble, the regional countries were guided by a comprehensive report from the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) which also provided recommendations on how the Bubble would operate, and laid out the eligibility criteria for countries to participate.
The recommendations included that countries would be categorised ranging from those with no cases to those which had low, medium, high and very high risk with respect to the rate of positive cases over a 14-day period; the level of risk would be determined by the number of positive cases per 100,000 of the population within a 14-day period; only those countries with no cases and those in the low-risk category would be allowed to participate in the Bubble; and CARPHA will assess relevant data to advise on participation in the Bubble.