On March 1, 2020, the first case of coronavirus in the Caribbean was confirmed when an Italian tourist became ill in the Dominican Republic. On March 19, the country, which shares a border with Haiti, declared a state of emergency and as of June 3, it still has the highest number of positive cases in the region.
But how is the other Caribbean countries doing? Are there signs of permanent virus control? Has the Caribbean gone through the worst or is it just enjoying a calmer stage before the much-feared second wave? What measures continue to be applied and how do Caribbean nations work to open their doors, mainly with regard to travel and tourism, pillars of regional economies?
It is not a uniform situation and July, and perhaps August, will be key as Caribbean governments try to strike a balance between public health and economic affairs. In addition, the fact that 2020 is a year of general elections in several countries in the region is added.
This section, the first article in a two-part series, provides an overview of how various Caribbean countries have been coping with COVID-19. In the next one, we will see the need to restart regional economies – several of which depend on tourism – and the danger that this represents.
Overview of COVID-19 in the Caribbean
Small territories such as Anguilla, with only 15,000 inhabitants, the British Virgin Islands with about 32,000 people, and Saint Kitts and Nevis with a population of 52,000, have registered few positive cases each, and have had no active cases for some time. .
Barbados, which has a larger population of around 287,000 inhabitants, also has no cases, as do the Turks and Caicos Islands, another territory that depends largely on tourism and has plans to reopen the border on July 22.
These islands are gradually lifting restrictions, have even shortened the curfew hours, and businesses and schools have started operating. San Cristóbal was still focused on holding the general elections on June 5.
Other territories in the region, most of them larger, continue to face a series of challenges.
The Bahamas, which has 385,000 inhabitants, is working to relax some measures on some islands in particular, even planning to reopen the border on July 1. However, it has 43 active cases, so it's not completely out of the woods yet.
To top it off, another cause for concern has been the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially started on June 1. After nine months of the devastating Hurricane Dorian, some of the islands of the archipelago still fail to fully recover.
With nearly 64,000 inhabitants, Bermuda continues to be cautious despite the fact that the number of active cases among the 141 confirmed cases continues to decrease; 47 of which have been registered in nursing homes.
The Government, concerned that citizens do not comply with social distancing measures, has declared that it will have “zero tolerance” with those who do not comply. However, the country's prime minister, David Burt, said “it is not in his plans to cancel this year's tourism season.”
With a population of 11.3 million inhabitants, the country has registered 2,083 coronavirus cases and 83 deaths. The country currently has 165 active cases and it seems that it does not plan to relax the measures in the coming weeks. The borders will remain closed until July 1 at least.
Dominica, which has only 71,000 inhabitants, has been carrying out a successful fight against the virus: it has registered few cases, and two other cases of repatriated cruise ship workers have recently joined.
On June 1, the country registry the first two cases of COVID-19 in at least two months: two repatriated cruise ship workers, both asymptomatic. They were placed in mandatory quarantine and these cases brought the most recent number of coronavirus cases in the country to 18 and the number of recovered to 16.
Both bordering countries, the Dominican Republic with 11.3 million inhabitants and Haiti with just over 11 million, continue to face the increase in cases of COVID-19.
Social activities are still prohibited in the Dominican Republic but despite having 17,572 cases of COVID-19 and 502 deaths as of June 3, being one of the main tourist destinations, the country hopes to open the borders on July 2 .
On May 25, Haiti became the first country in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), made up of 15 countries, to exceed 1,000 cases of coronavirus, after registering more than 300 new cases in three days.
In early June, the country had more than 2,000 cases. In addition to the social, economic and political challenges, the country will likely soon have to juggle the limited monetary resources it has to ease the burden on health and social systems.
Suriname and Guyana
Although Suriname is concerned about the hard-fought May 25 elections, this CARICOM member country, located on the South American mainland, has only one active case.
Guyana, another continental country member of CARICOM, is still counting the votes cast in the highly controversial general elections that took place in early March.
While citizens await the results, which will be announced on June 16, the country is facing the increase in cases due to COVID-19, which accounts for 12 deaths as of June 3.
Jamaica, with a population of 2.9 million, continues to register new cases of coronavirus, most of which are imported (including repatriated cruise ship workers) or connected to the outbreak in a call call that happened in April.
As of April 3, the island has a total of 588 cases, ten deceased and 322 recovered. Returned workers (approximately 2,300) have been arriving in groups from various cruise ships.
Although social distancing and curfew measures remain in place, local businesses returned to normal on June 1, the same day the country opened borders for the entry of repatriated citizens. The island will open to tourism from June 15. Details of the travel protocols have yet to be announced, but Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett, in his May 31 remarks, said he aims to make Jamaica a resilient tourist destination to the coronavirus.
Puerto Rico, a territory not incorporated into the United States, with 3,189 cases and 127 deaths, has not yet reached the point where it can relax the restrictions. As a consequence of devastating hurricanes in 2017 and a series of earthquakes this year, it is still trying to recover, even while witnessing the economic dangers caused by the pandemic.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
The scattered islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, while weathering the coronavirus storm well, have reported 19 new cases of repatriated citizens recently returning from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship. More people are tested and quarantined.
Trinidad and Tobago
A Caribbean nation that has consistently excelled in the fight against the coronavirus is Trinidad and Tobago. The two-island country reported the first case on April 26 and has since successfully flattened the curve.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh emphasized that the reopening “has to be a gradual process, well planned and evaluated.” Whatever steps are taken, they will clearly influence how the country's general elections are scheduled to take place later this year.
In the next article in this series we will see how the reopening process of the economies of the small island countries will impact, although the conoravirus continues to feel a threat to global health.