Antigua Observer- Despite the country’s high vaccination rate and widespread public health measures, residents and visitors in Antigua and Barbuda are being encouraged to be careful during the upcoming holiday season, amid the sustained threat of Covid-19.

This advice comes against the backdrop of last year’s yuletide season, when the actions of hundreds of returning residents and citizens – who were accused of defying home quarantine rules and mingling with the local population – were blamed for a dramatic increase in infections early in the new year.

Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, referenced that situation during this week’s post-Cabinet media briefing.

“We felt that a number of our returning nationals – for one reason or the other – were able to work around some of the protocols that we had in place.

“They were our greatest risk, because … the reality is that when persons return here for funerals or other family events, they mix within the local population,” Nicholas said.

In preventing a recurrence of that infection spike, he talked up the experience the country’s health professionals would have gained in dealing with multiple outbreaks and pointed to the added measures that should go some way toward strengthening the resistance.

“Of course, we have demonstrated on more than three occasions how effective our measures have been in bringing the numbers down after a significant [spike].

“[Importantly, we] have an additional layer of security, of presenting a negative [Covid] test before arrival here. That condition did not exist last December. [Also], vaccines were not yet in wide usage in some of our source markets and the routes that we have direct flights into Antigua, so those circumstances would have changed. We believe that those filters are going to improve our position,” he explained.

As Nicholas mentioned, the landscape has changed since last December, with Covid-19 vaccination and testing now mandatory requirements for entry into Antigua. He warned, however, that there is another factor that should be of concern to the population.

“What we do not have any control over would be another variant, and so we’re still asking our people to exercise caution and good judgement,” he admonished.

“If the numbers do [trend] upwards as a result of the increased volume of persons coming here for tourism or for returning home, we have to be mindful of that.”

Ahead of the holiday season, the government has allowed bars and nightclubs to resume operations – albeit under strict conditions – and declared that beaches will remain open indefinitely on public holidays.