by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Officials have agreed to adjust their COVID-19 vaccine testing approach in another effort to safely resume cruise tourism.
Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris announced on August 24 that “At our Cabinet meeting on Monday, August 16, we took a decision to spur cruise tourism by making a major concession to allow vaccinated cruise passengers to enter the Federation utilising antigen tests.”
Onboarding additional advice from health officials, the local government made an informed decision to change its testing protocols for vaccinated individuals.
Last month, the Seabourn Odyssey was the first cruise ship to return, followed by the Celebrity Millennium a week later.
Tourism officials anticipated weekly visits from both vessels and expected other ships’ returning to our shores as cruise lines were homeporting in the Caribbean.
Then on August 6, the Minister of Tourism Hon. Lindsay Grant announced the suspension of cruise vessels based on a Supreme court ruling centering on the vaccination status of cruise ship patrons and testing protocols. Cruises homeporting in the Caribbean returned to Florida, a blow to the much-anticipated return of cruise tourism in the Federation.
Previously, the Federation only accepted RT-PCR tests for vaccinated travellers or returning nationals into the federation as the gold standard.
According to health officials, the accuracy of picking up the virus or creating false positives was the driving factor preventing them from accepting antigen test results.
However, according to the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Hazel Laws, that is no longer the case.
“In terms of the rapid antigen tests themselves, there is a lot of improvement in terms of the performance of these tests in terms of the level of sensitivity, meaning the test’s, ability to pick up positives, that has improved, and the level or the rate of specificity; the tests, ability to rule out the disease. And so these rapid antigen tests their performance has improved.”
At the August 24 press conference, Minister Grant shared the way forward for St. Kitts.
“We have indicated cruise lines that we are prepared to accept passengers on the cruise lines 12 and up vaccinated. That means though that even apart from Norwegian Cruise Lines and the other cruise lines that we are dealing with, namely Royal Caribbean and Carnival, because of what this government has indicated to the cruise lines, they have taken that stance that they can now ask them, their vaccination status because they are coming to St. Kitts. Meaning that because we have said that this is our position, the cruise lines can no ask, which means it’s a way to get around the back door of the decision by Governor DeSantis in Florida. So it means that at this point in time, when we are ready, now willing and able to receive the passengers coming on cruise lines, we will know the status.”
In a release from the St. Kitts Nevis Information Service (SKNIS), Racquel Brown, the St. Kitts Tourism Authority CEO, shared that an agreement was reached to allow vaccinated and unvaccinated cruise passengers into the Federation. Unvaccinated cruise passengers would still have to take the RT-PCR Test, but fully vaccinated individuals can take either the Antigen Test or the RT-PCR.
“The bottom line is, these inbound cruise passengers, they would just be on an island for less than a day. And they would only be interacting with fully vaccinated locals on bubble tours, and so the cabinet took a decision that we are at the stage to accept this level of risk.,” shared Dr Laws.
No date has been given to when the cruises are expected to return.