Home » Lockdown in paradise: Antigua’s plea for guests | Features News

Lockdown in paradise: Antigua’s plea for guests | Features News

by newsking24

Dickenson Bay, Antigua – Osmilta Prince sits on a rock beneath a palm tree, her do-it-yourself masks protecting her face. By her ft, is a basket of handmade shell bracelets and calabash bowls. Close by, a laminated signal reads: “Stay Apart 6 feet – or 9½ coconuts”.

By this time of day, the 48-year-old single mom can have ordinarily bought sufficient curios to place meals on the desk to feed her 4 sons. But right this moment, the sun-loungers on this normally in style seaside are principally empty.

“It’s scary to realise that this could go on for another year,” she says, taking within the quiet seaside. “This is my income, and the modest savings I have won’t last. I don’t want to go and beg. Everything I earn now goes on food because there hasn’t been a chance to save since we reopened.”

Osmilta Prince says all the things she earns now goes on meals for her household [Rosie Hopegood/Al Jazeera]

It has been a tricky seven months for the residents of Antigua and Barbuda, twin islands within the Caribbean which rely closely on the cash ordinarily introduced in by virtually 300,000 vacationers a yr, plus a further 788,000 cruise ship day-trippers. Visitors are drawn by the islands’ 365 seashores, low crime charges and splendid inns, however with this yr’s drastic world decline in worldwide journey, the nation has been hit onerous.

“COVID has been extremely devastating to our economy,” the nation’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne tells Al Jazeera. “We’re one of the most tourism-dependent countries in the world and, as a consequence, our revenues fell by as much as 60 percent at one point. A lot of people were put out of work as a result of closure of the tourism sector, as airlines and cruise ships discontinued service.”

In spite of the difficult financial circumstances, the islands have, to date, been largely efficient at suppressing the virus. In a inhabitants of 97,000, there have been simply three recorded deaths from COVID-19. This interprets to 31 cumulative deaths per million, a stark distinction to Peru’s determine of 1,006, the US’s 641 or the UK’s 630, for instance.

While many governments dithered over the efficacy of masks, Antigua and Barbuda launched obligatory mask-wearing in April and created a sturdy track-and-trace system which has to date traced 22,000 folks, equal to 1 / 4 of the nation’s inhabitants. These insurance policies, mixed with stringent airport measures, have saved instances low.

The twin islands would ordinarily obtain 300,000 vacationers a yr, plus an additional 788,000 cruise ship day-trippers [Rosie Hopegood/Al Jazeera]

‘We had to shoo the billionaires away’

The islands shut down on March 27, in the direction of the tail finish of excessive season. Ordinarily, cruise ships would have continued to dock for an additional six weeks and a gradual, although lowered, quite a few vacationers would go to in the course of the hurricane season (from June till October).

“When shutdown happened, it happened fast,” says Lance Leonhardt, proprietor of in style restaurant Jacqui O’s Beachhouse on Crabb Hill Beach, which misplaced roughly $90,000 over the course of the closure – almost 30 p.c of regular turnover.

“We were told at midday on March 27 that everybody had to be out by 6pm. There were a couple of super-yachts anchored out front and we had to practically shoo some billionaires away after lunch. There was a lot of panic at the beginning – a few people online were saying it was all going to turn to anarchy, that people were going to starve and everybody should turn to agriculture.”

Lance Leonhardt, the proprietor of a preferred restaurant, says it misplaced almost 30 p.c of regular turnover in the course of the shutdown [Rosie Hopegood/Al Jazeera]

But in reality, the island’s lockdown was comparatively clean. Within days, handwashing sinks had been put in exterior outlets and fines for non-mask wearers had been launched, whereas meals parcels had been out there for these in disaster.

With so many roles depending on tourism, staying closed wasn’t possible for the long term. The nation spent a number of million {dollars} quickly changing an outdated hospital ward into a brand new infectious illnesses centre within the capital of Saint John’s, equipping it with 50 ventilators and 17 state-of-the-art isolation ICU rooms particularly for COVID victims. So far, the power has been used only a handful of occasions because it opened in late April. On June 1, Antigua and Barbuda turned one of many first nations within the area to reopen.

“When we reopened, there was just one flight a week,” says Charles Fernandez, the minister for tourism. “We used that as an opportunity to test protocols, and fine-tune them – other islands that waited to open later didn’t have that training opportunity. We observed everything, made notes, and had a week before the next flight to see whether we thought there were gaps in safety to improve on it.”

A shuttered mall on the island [Rosie Hopegood/Al Jazeera]

Arrivals to Antigua’s VC Bird International Airport at the moment are met by officers in full PPE and should provide a detrimental coronavirus check outcome, taken throughout the final seven days. Initially, guests had been examined upon arrival, however the authorities was compelled to vary tack after a number of vacationers threatened authorized motion, claiming that the obligatory assessments had been a violation of their rights. “There were some smart-alecks suggesting that the International Health Regulations would deem nasal swabs to be invasive,” says Prime Minister Browne. “On that basis, we changed our policies to tests prior to arrival.”

As the vacationers started to reach, some locals had been apprehensive about an infection charges overseas. “Where I live, people scowl at me because they know I work with tourists,” says seaside vendor Prince. “They think I am going to bring the disease into the community.”

Star Hazelwood says the island depends upon tourism and that when tourism numbers are down all the things suffers [Rosie Hopegood/Al Jazeera]

But for Star Hazelwood, 61, a jewelry vendor and grandfather of two, the aid at reopening was overwhelming. “Of course, we worry about people bringing the disease to the island but life is just a risk,” he says. “If they did another lockdown, we’d be dead. Most people I know have jobs that rely on tourism. That’s what the island is all about – when that’s down, everything’s down.”

To date, not a single vacationer has been discovered to have contracted COVID-19 on the island, though the variety of guests has been low. August noticed a 73 p.c discount within the variety of guests in contrast with the identical time final yr. As the nation strikes into excessive season, the federal government should keep the troublesome balancing act of holding folks secure whereas nonetheless creating a beautiful setting for guests.

Staying alive versus dwelling a life

“It does feel very safe here,” says Diana Taylor, 54, an administration supervisor from close to London within the UK on a visit to have fun her 30th wedding ceremony anniversary. “The problem is you can never tell how other people will behave – once people have had a drink, social distancing tends to go out of the window. My husband, Phil, and I had coronavirus at Easter. It was 10 days of fever and not being able to get up the stairs without panting, so we’re cautious because now doctors are saying you can get it again.”

But not all guests to the island are that involved concerning the virus. “I think everything’s being made such a big deal and it really shouldn’t have been as big a deal as it has,” says Brandon Arino, a knowledge engineer from Texas, who forged his vote for Donald Trump within the 2020 presidential election earlier than happening his honeymoon. “I like facts and figures, and facts and figures don’t add up to the amount of attention this has got.”

It is a sentiment echoed by fellow US vacationer Lauren Cyr, a nurse from Indianapolis. “The media has played a lot into what people think,” she says. “I think it’s been misconstrued …. For us, it plays a lot into the politics. People are quick to point fingers at Trump.”

These attitudes sit in distinction with the stance taken by the native authorities in Antigua. “From the start, our people took the issue seriously, particularly compared to other countries in which the population – and even sometimes the leadership – did not,” says Prime Minister Browne. “We didn’t see the virus as a common cold; we saw it as a virus that could decimate the health of our people, as well as our economy.”

With cruise ships and vacationers unlikely to return quickly, the nation is aware of the complete impact of COVID-19 on its economic system has but to be seen [Rosie Hopegood/Al Jazeera]

With the International Monetary Fund forecasting an financial contraction of 10.three p.c for nations that rely closely on tourism, the impact on Antigua and Barbuda’s economic system has but to be absolutely seen. The return of the cruise ships this yr seems unlikely, however the nation is hoping to entice a brand new kind of prosperous, home-working customer with the introduction of a two-year “digital nomad” visa.

The islands are additionally, inadvertently, receiving one other kind of vacationer – whereas guests from most European nations are nonetheless barred from the US, members of the family separated by the Atlantic are reuniting in Antigua, typically after many months aside. “We’ve had a lot of these ‘rendezvous’ tourists dining at Jacqui O’s,” says Leonhardt. “Just recently, we had a famous American actor meeting up with his German girlfriend, and a British pop star stopping over here for two weeks so that he could enter the States to see his child and ex-wife in LA.”

With the variety of coronavirus instances worldwide rising sooner than ever and journey restrictions in place in lots of nations, the islands of Antigua and Barbuda are dealing with an unsure season.

“The big thing I’m aware of is that it doesn’t matter how good a job we do on the island in keeping this place safe and having low rates of infection because we are subject to whatever happens in other countries,” says Leonhardt. “If air bridges get shut down, then there’s nobody to come. It’s like we’re waiting for the guillotine to fall.”

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