Antigua & Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne called for patience as they process the increased work load of screening passengers due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The prime minister was on ZJB Radio Thursday morning to express their continued support of Montserrat.
He said there has been a notable increase in maritime traffic on both Antigua and Barbuda including yachts and boats from neighbouring islands. Prime Minister Browne said more vessels are seeking safe harbour in the twin-island state as other territories have closed their borders. This he said was creating a “bit of strain on port services, immigration and health services,” as they are screening passengers at all ports of entry.
The prime minister reiterated that there was no ban on travel from the UK, US, and the region and they are committed to keeping the borders open. He requested patience as all marinas were filled with yachts and he has asked the Montserrat ferry be given preference so as to facilitate travellers with other connections.
He said the news of extended delays with processing ferry passengers and concerns that Montserrat was being singled out came to his attention yesterday. He added that the Antiguan way is to treat all with respect regardless of country of origin. “Montserrat is our closest neighbour,” he said. “If there are officials who have crossed the line between Antigua & Barbuda and Montserrat let me know so we can take corrective action.”
The government leader said the screening of incoming travellers was necessary to curb the transfer of the virus into domestic population. He continued to say that it was of benefit also to those coming in for their own protection and comfort. As if one was found to be ill, it would be better for them to be sent back to Montserrat to recuperate than be isolated on small rooms on Antigua and without familial support.
The screenings will result in some delay, he reiterated. We are asking all to be patient.
Prime Minister Browne said closing the borders was not an option as 80% of what the island consumed is imported. he explained that they did not want the economy to end up in a free fall as they are tourism dependent. It was necessary to reduce the impact of the virus on the overall economy. To rebuild, he said will be a monumental task.
As several Montserrat and Anguilla are dependent on Antigua & Barbuda for air access, he shared, their needs have to be taken into consideration as well. He said Antigua may well be needed for medivac services and other emergencies and he has told the UK Government that unless they are absolutely forced to close borders, his country will continue to provide services to Montserrat and Anguilla.
He commended the efforts of the Montserrat government for their continued support and the staying in contact as everyone deals with the outbreak. Both Antigua and Montserrat have confirmed one COVID-19 case. Both originated from a British Airways flight on March 10.
Listen to the full interview – https://montserratradioecho.wordpress.com/2020/03/19/thursday-march-19-2020-basil-speaks-with-antigua-and-barbuda-prime-minister-hon-gaston-browne-re-ferry-docking-delay-issue/