ANTIGUA LONDON SPAT

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne.
Photo by George Alleyne

As regional governments scramble for enough vaccine supplies to inoculate key sections of their populations, Antigua’s government has found itself embroiled in an embarrassing spat with Britain after authorities there complained that two nationals had allegedly brought back a brand new strain of the deadly Corona virus after holidaying on the island.

Word of the new strain spread like wildfire in the United Kingdom and other European destinations as Antiguan officials buckled down to find ways to weather the storm of hotel cancellations and the bad press that resulted from the two tourists allegedly taking a brand new strain back to England.

Angry at the development, Prime Minister Gaston Browne riddled off a letter to counterpart Boris Johnson, suggesting that the UK should consider compensating Antigua for the hotel cancellations and the economic hurt that resulted in their letter going viral in recent days.

Public Health England had last Thursday complained about the development saying it had been brought to England by two nationals who had spent time in Antigua. The usually combative Browne was, however, very adamant that “no British visitor to Antigua had contracted Covid-19” in the country.  There is no scientific evidence to determine where this variant first emerged,” Browne observed, noting as well that the flood of media reports could only serve to further devastate the island’s lifeline tourism economy. Browne also said he “regretted any misunderstanding that may have arisen from the matter.”

Like much of the Eastern Caribbean sub grouping, Antigua has been able to keep a relatively decent lid on the spread of the virus, recording only 992 cases in a year with 27 deaths and 600 recoveries. This is one reason why the prime minister is adamant that the tourists were unlikely to have contracted the virus while holidaying on the island.

To make up for the damage, Browne was quick to demand compensation or a form of reparations for the precipitate behavior of the British by requesting a donation of 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to be used among islanders. “I look forward to a favorable response to my proposal.”

Browne said that once a travel advisory was put out by British health, hotel officials were forced to watch helplessly as hotel cancellations spiked and as the island’s tourism product came under attack. He said the island would now have to borrow money to repair the damage done by the allegation about the new variant being discovered in Antigua being bandied about. “Antigua and Barbuda is highly dependent on tourism and has long been a favored holiday destination for British tourists but the report that went viral after it was picked up by international media, has caused hotel bookings to be cancelled.”

The spat between Antigua and Britain has come at a time when governments are scrambling to secure enough vaccines to distribute among citizens as it is becoming clearer with each passing day that the international travel industry will demand passengers produce evidence that they had already been vaccinated.

Guyana and Trinidad, for example, this week used the opportunity of online meetings with Chinese President Xi Jingping to plead for greater quantities of vaccines as they discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues, including the controversial belt and road initiative. Many governments have complained about paying for supplies to the international COVAX umbrella acquisition and distribution system but are yet to receive allocations as the richer western nations have snapped up available supplies.

It is unclear if the Chinese head of state plans to hold similar online meetings with other leaders like Barbados, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Suriname and others. CARICOM and China will next year observe 50 years of largely unbroken relation. Back in 1972, Guyana persuaded Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados to join it in ending China’s hemispheric isolation as a group. The rest is history.

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