In the first part of this article, reference was made to the situation of the Caribbean countries in the fight against COVID-19 in early June 2020. In this second part, we will focus on how the region plans to reopen the economy , which for the most part depends on tourism.
Tourism in the Caribbean boomed in 2019. Then, with the last leg of the year, the COVID-19 emerged. As a result of the pandemic, the Caribbean Tourism Organization nicknamed the virus, in a podcast run, as the “unwanted visitor.”
Because it represents one of the largest foreign exchange earnings and a source of employment for most Caribbean countries, the safe opening of borders to foreign visitors has become indispensable since May, and even more so now that some countries have achieved successfully contain the number of coronavirus cases.
However, while some countries have stated that they are ready to open borders, and have even decided on the date, optionally or definitively, others have not yet reached that stage. Some are not even willing to set a reopening date.
Openness to tourism
Among the countries that have reported that they will open their doors from June are Antigua and Barbuda, which received the first flight from the United States on June 4, and Saint Lucia, which reported that it “will carry out a responsible gradual approach to reopening of the tourism sector ”, also on June 4, despite having extended the local state of emergency until September.
Belize, a Caribbean country located along the northeast coast of Central America, can boast of not having presented cases of coronavirus in more than a month; and next to Granada and the Dutch island of Aruba, they seem ready to reopen their doors. However, none of the three countries have reported dates yet. Bonaire, a neighbor of Aruba, Bonaire, which also does not present cases, terminated the travel restriction on June 15.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Virgin Islands welcomed tourism on June 1, but the state of emergency remains in effect until July 11.
You have to take it easy despite the hype
The Cayman Islands, with a population of 64,000, has not indicated a date when it would return to normal, but a health institution in the country plans to carry out an antibody test to verify immunity to the coronavirus.
This island, famous cruise destination, has already examined about 20% of the population and has 150 cases. Tourism agents plan a recovery stage, but have not decided on the date. However, the unpredictable aspect of the virus was revealed on June 3 when it was reported that a nine-year-old girl tested positive, a “sobering” situation according to the head of the medical service.
Meanwhile, those interested in traveling and hotel chains are preparing, taking reservations and advertising the region as one of the preferred destinations. A travel website noted that due to the region's relatively low contagion rate, travelers from the United States would return to the Caribbean in June.
Despite this, in some countries planning to open their doors, the virus has not completely dissipated and large numbers of visitors are feared to be risky to local populations, so the mood in the Caribbean remains cautious.
The current president of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, said in an interview with the BBC on May 26:
We are not going to be driven by dates, we are going to be driven by protocols that make us safe. (…) We are trying to balance lives and livelihoods, like everyone else (…) but the scale of unemployment has been crippling.
We will not be guided by dates, we will be guided by protocols that keep us safe. (…) We are trying to find a balance between life and survival, like everyone else (…) but the level of unemployment is devastating.
Mottley stressed that from now on, the “big problem” is the examination of travelers; He also confirmed that debate is ongoing among stakeholders regarding travel protocols. Her native island, with 287,000 inhabitants, has not registered cases of coronavirus for six days; Only 11 cases were detected in May and a massive test taking has been carried out. On the one hand, trade restrictions have been lifted and citizens can go to the island's beaches, but on the other hand, the Government of Barbados has not yet announced the date when it will reopen the borders.
In Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness confirmed at a press conference that CARICOM seeks to collaborate on new protocols for tourists arriving on the Caribbean coast. He referred to the “new normal” and noted:
These protocols probably won’t be much different to what other countries will have, but as a group, I think there is a general understanding of what the future of travel will look like.
These protocols will not be very different from those that other countries have implemented, but as a group, I consider that there is a general conception of what the future of tourism will be like.
Caribbean governments are in the middle of the dilemma between current public health concerns and the reality of the region, whose economy depends on tourism and is now plummeting. The Jamaica Planning Institute predicted a sharp contraction in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the April-June quarter, mostly as a result of measures taken to contain the pandemic.
In addition, there is another factor to take into account, to which the president of CARICOM referred: on June 1, the Atlantic hurricane season 2020 officially began, a stage that the Caribbean faces with concern, because the consequences are increasingly more serious due to climate change. Over the past few years, the intensity of storms has increased and they have been devastating.
2020 is proving to be an unpredictable and challenging year for the Caribbean. Has the region overcome the worst with COVID-19? Perhaps it is too early to say, but it seems that there are more tests to overcome.