Government ministers held a cabinet meeting on March 9th, 2022, to discuss changes to the nation’s Covid-19 protocols. This meeting follows a significant decrease in active Covid-19 cases, registering 19 active cases only as of March 5th. And since the pandemic has been going on for over two years, it’s time to change the guidelines to live with it, manage it, and move forward.
1.Mask-Wearing Optional as Students return to Face-to-face Learning
So far, mask-wearing in Antigua and Barbuda was mandated by the government and obligatory. Cabinet decided to make face-covering optional for its residents, allowing private businesses to require proof of vaccination or masks at their own discretion. This decision makes Antigua and Barbuda the first country of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) to remove its mask mandates and make face-coverings optional. Nonetheless, the country’s Chief Medical Officer Ronda Sealy-Thomas still recommends that some people who will likely come into contact with large groups of people should consider wearing a mask despite the mandated protocol changes. Such people would include personnel in:
At the same time, healthcare workers such as Doctors, nurses and medical personnel, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities will still observe mandates regarding masks and other protocols that remain in effect. This rule also applies to all persons entering those facilities.
In addition, after two years of remote learning, students are set to return to their classrooms as of March 14th. They will no longer be required to wear masks either. However, those who wish to continue wearing face coverings can do so independently. Teachers and security personnel are still encouraged to keep wearing masks. Cabinet has accepted that social distancing is not entirely achievable while face-to-face learning resumes. Thus, sanitizing according to guidelines and temperature checks will be required in schools for the foreseeable future.
Despite the government’s relaxed policy on masks moving forward, education officials still urge students and teachers alike to continue wearing masks to prevent the Covid-19 virus and avoid school shutdowns.
2. Relaxed Covid-19 protocols for travelers
Antigua and Barbuda also relaxed its Covid-19 protocols for travelers, adjusting its advisory and guidelines for returning nationals, residents, and tourists.
For instance, returning nationals and residents no longer have to be vaccinated to return to the islands. Non-vaccinated individuals will still have to produce a PCR or approved rapid antigen test result no older than 4 days, and they’ll also have to quarantine in their own homes for 10 to 14 days. On the other hand, fully vaccinated nationals won’t have to go through those testing procedures and requirements unless they show symptoms of viral infection.
In contrast, all tourists are required to be fully vaccinated. Like jabbed nationals, they will not have to provide Covid-19 test results upon entry unless they show signs of infection. Those who exhibit symptoms will submit to testing at their own expense, and port Health officials will provide them with a list of instructions on permissible activities while awaiting results.
Those changes will make travel significantly less expensive and widen the mobility access to Antigua and Barbuda. The government’s goal for flexible travel and health regulations is to reignite the tourism economy while keeping the pandemic status at a manageable curve.
3. Proof of Vaccination Access Updates and A New Target Goal
Antigua and Barbuda has the highest vaccination penetration rate in CARICOM. The government issued its latest update on the Covid-19 pandemic and stated that the country currently stands at a 62% vaccination rate. The Cabinet stressed its goal to exceed that tally and reach a 70% vaccination rate by June 2022.
Meanwhile, providing proof of vaccination will no longer be required to access certain facilities and services. In addition to government buildings, the Cabinet announces that citizens may access cinemas, nightclubs and bars, gyms, sporting arenas, and restaurants without showing a vaccination card. Private businesses may still mandate this requirement, but it will be at their own discretion and no longer enforced by law. Similarly, workers will no longer be instructed for vaccination, quarantine, and Covid testing as employment conditions.