Antigua has just reopened for tourism with strict new health and safety protocols. An American Airlines flight from Miami landed on the evening of June 4 at the country's VC Bird International Airport, the first commercial flight to the island since its borders were closed in March. It's reported that most passengers were returning nationals, though there were some tourists.
Along with St Lucia and the US Virgin Islands, Antigua is among the first holiday destinations in the Caribbean to have started welcoming holidaymakers again. Like most of the region, the little country is heavily dependent on tourism for its prosperity. Around two thirds of its GDP comes from tourism, and a third of its workforce is employed in the industry.
Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, told Telegraph Travel: "To get us back to a semblance of normality is critical for our economy. But we are reopening in a phased manner that first and foremost safeguards the people who live here while also protecting the health and safety of our visitors as we welcome them back."
To date, Antigua and its little sister island of Barbuda have contained the coronavirus well, with only 26 cases and three fatalities. On arrival at the airport, visitors will need to fill out a health declaration form and undergo a rapid Covid-19 test. They will be able to go straight on to their hotel, where they need to remain for up to 24 hours until the test result comes through. Visitors who test positive will be isolated – at their hotel where possible, otherwise at a government facility.
Another key requirement is wearing a face mask. "You must wear a mask when you're out and about in public areas," said Mr James. "However, at your hotel there will be no need to wear a mask when you're sunbathing by the pool or on the beach, but you will be expected to when you're interacting with hotel staff or other guests."
Initially nine hotels, including Sandals Grande Antigua and Hodges Bay, have reopened. Most are all-inclusive. Among the host of new health and safety protocols is à la carte dining instead of buffets.
"The low-rise, spread-out style of most of our hotel properties, with their individual villa-type rooms and in some cases their own plunge pools, naturally lends itself to social distancing," said Mr James.
Apart from the need for social distancing and wearing masks, there are no restrictions on visitors wishing to explore. The island is famous for the number (and quality) of its beaches. It claims to have 365 of them, so you should have no difficulty in finding lots of socially distanced space on the sands.
All beaches are open for a swim, jog or stroll, and watersports will be available at hotels. However, under lockdown restrictions currently in place until at least June 12, you aren't allowed to picnic, drink alcohol or play music on beaches. The measure is intended to curb weekend beach parties, a big part of life for Antiguans.
At present there is also a 9pm-5am curfew in place, and restaurants and bars outside reopened hotels are open only for takeaways. Some should begin offering in-house eating and drinking later in June. Though most tour companies have yet to be certified to reopen for land or boat trips, you can make outings by taxi or rent a car from your hotel.
After the US, the UK is the second-most important tourism market for Antigua – 90,000 Britons visited last year. Leaving aside the possible ramifications of the UK's forthcoming quarantine measures, flights from London to Antigua are due to recommence mid-July with British Airways and in August with Virgin Atlantic.
Travelling from the UK, Antigua also serves as the key flight hub for onward inter-island connections to other nearby Caribbean holiday spots such as Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Dominica.