After more than two months of watching their tourism-dependent economies be decimated by the coronavirus amid airport, beach and hotel closures, Caribbean nations are beginning to reopen their borders to tourists.
But the experience will be nothing like what visitors might have had six months ago. Traveling during the global COVID-19 pandemic will now mean health and safety protocols for hoteliers and tour operators and uncertainty for airlines as island governments require face masks, temperature checks and COVID-19 testing. 19 for passengers – some even before boarding.
“It is expected that if you are staying in the territory and you feel you have some of the known symptoms of coronavirus, you will immediately report to the government authorities in place and then begin self-quarantine,” Joseph said. Boschulte, tourism commissioner for the US Virgin Islands.
On Monday, the US territory, which has never officially closed its airports, relaunched its tourism brand by once again inviting travelers to come and visit. When the pandemic hit in March, USVI Governor Albert Bryan Jr. closed the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John to all visitors and banned hotels, guesthouses, and guesthouses. hosts to accept new guests.
Now the islands are trying to lure them in and are hoping airport temperature checks and mandatory masks and social distancing, along with health and safety protocols for businesses, will be enough.
“Eventually, you have to take a few steps to try to stimulate your economy. What you do to prepare is critical and we are putting the necessary mitigations in place,” Boschulte said. “The governor said it very clearly, ‘If we see a sharp spike, we’ll close our doors.’ ”
While the virus has been mostly contained in the English-speaking Caribbean, the reopening of airports and cruise ports remains a thorny issue as countries try to strike a balance between life and livelihoods. The region is the most dependent on tourism in the world and, after months of airport closures, a number of carriers have announced the resumption of some services for the summer pending the lifting of restrictions on border closures.
On Tuesday, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr Carissa Etienne, warned nations that opening too quickly risks “a resurgence of COVID-19 which could erase the advantage gained over the past few months”.
To mitigate a surge, a number of Caribbean countries are turning to testing.
Already a requirement for travelers to Haiti and the Bahamas, which will begin allowing boaters and private plane charters on June 15 and international commercial flights on July 1, a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test in time actual negative COVID-19 is also required. in Saint Lucia.
The Eastern Caribbean island will reopen its airport on Thursday, limiting visitors to those from the United States for now and requiring a “certified” negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of boarding.
Antigua and Barbuda, which will also reopen on Thursday, had hoped airlines would administer a rapid test to passengers before boarding but now says its health officials will do so on arrival, although everyone will have to complete a health form.
Whether the new protocols will be enough to attract tourists remains to be seen, as industry officials admit safety will be a top priority for consumers and the region should expect to see a different type of visitor.
“The possibility for Caribbean countries to remain closed indefinitely is unrealistic,” said Anton Edmunds, Saint Lucia’s ambassador to the United States. “It’s beyond the tourists. That’s all that comes with the trip. It’s everyone who enters and leaves a country; I deal with nationals, people from the diaspora who want to go home for the funeral.
Last month, the Caribbean Community signaled a desire to reopen the region’s borders to intra-regional travel between its 15, mostly English-speaking member states. But while Saint Lucia and Antigua have moved forward, and Jamaica announced a June 15 reopening for international travelers, many countries are choosing to move more slowly.
The problem, according to regional observers, is that once airports resume operations, many stranded nationals will return home, putting a strain on countries’ quarantine capacities. In recent weeks, Jamaica, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have all reported new COVID-19 infections from repatriated cruise ship workers despite being stuck on boats for two months.
“Where possible, we encourage testing as well as a range of other basic health safety protocols, which destinations and businesses put in place,” said Frank Comito, general manager of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, during a webinar on the outlook for Caribbean tourism.
Comito acknowledged that the challenge with testing has been getting the volume of approved PCR tests available, the costs and the time it takes to get results. Moreover, airlines do not want to be responsible for controlling these requirements.
In March, when Haiti became the first Caribbean country to require a negative COVID-19 test to travel to the country, Jetblue Airways suspended all services to the country. The airlines did not respond to questions on how they plan to do this, given that other markets now require the same or plan to do so.
American Airlines spokeswoman Laura Masvidal said Saint Lucia’s negative COVID-19 test requirement is why airlines have delayed returning to the island until July 7. Airlines, she said, “are not responsible for enforcement. ”
American Airlines, however, will require all of its passengers to wear face coverings on board and, in the case of travelers from Antigua, it will distribute health forms at the gate. Port Health of Antigua will collect forms after customers disembark.
“In Antigua, passengers can bring their own COVID-19 certificate, take a rapid test upon arrival, or they can also arrive untested as long as they stay exclusively at their hotel during their stay,” Masvidal said.
Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Brown said the bottom line is that countries will have to learn to live with COVID-19. Visiting the Eastern Caribbean island will not just mean staying in a hotel, but being subjected to a rapid COVID test
“Hotels have been transformed into bio-secure properties with strict sanitary protocols to prevent individuals from contracting and transmitting COVID,” he said.
Visitors who test positive will be isolated and treated at an infectious disease control center which the twin nation has fully equipped with ventilators and other medical equipment to treat patients who become seriously ill from COVID-19. “We believe that with the continued vigilance and personal responsibility of our people, we will continue to be successful in containing the disease,” Brown said.
This story was originally published June 3, 2020 6:00 a.m.