Tuesday 29 September, 2020

Caribbean containment of COVID-19 virus paving way for tourism

As the Caribbean region begins to loosen its travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective containment management will be critical to visitor confidence in destinations.

This view was expressed by Professor Clive Landis, Chair of the University of the West Indies COVID-19 Task Force who noted the region had done “remarkably well in containing this epidemic". 

During the July edition of the Central Bank of Barbados’ Caribbean Economic Forum, which focused on the topic Reviving Caribbean Tourism, Landis spoke about the public health efforts taking place across the Caribbean. Since the July 28 virtual forum, the updated number of COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean rests at 94,822. The Dominican Republic has the highest number of cases at 66,182. The region has registered over 1,500 deaths.

With regard to the region commencing the reopening of its borders, Landis pointed out that the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies almost all of the Caribbean as low risk based on the pandemic containment.

“So you don’t really fear about opening up to other low risk destinations. The difficulty comes when you start opening up to moderate risk such as the UK or Canada, or high risk such as the US or Brazil. And if you take a risk-based approach then these risks can be managed,” he maintained.

For a region of roughly 27 million people, he emphasized that the level of containment has been “really exceptional.”

The Caribbean experience with COVID-19 has been written about in global health peer review journals. It was basically achieved by doing the basics well. So our testing was really excellent right from the word go. We’ve never had virology testing like this available to us in the Caribbean. A dozen or more islands were trained by the Pan-American Health Organisation."

They had the gold standard PCR test. The quality of the testing has been good and the speed of the results. So, typically we would be generating results within 24 hours,” Landis explained.

The quick turn around with test results allowed for speedy contact tracing to help contain the transmission of the virus.

“So we’ve been able to do testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine. We’ve been doing that well. And we also locked down early... by and large, most Caribbean countries locked down before the first deaths, and many of them locked down before the first case,” he noted.

“And, so, this was the underpinning of how the Caribbean has achieved this containment. And it means that we can now reopen our economies from a position where it is safe to do so, providing we take all of the necessary precautions,” Landis stated.

“So we don’t need to necessarily harbor the same fears that we’ve seen in the US or Brazil or India where they opened into an ongoing epidemic. We don’t have that here,” the UWI COVID-19 Task Force Chair said.

 

Speaking from a tourism industry perspective, Patricia Affonso-Dass, President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), praised the collaborative effort between the public and private sectors.

“From inception one of the key things that we’ve been doing is information sharing, collection of best practices and really looking to see how we can help our members advocate for the things that they will need to ride the crisis out,” said Affonso-Dass.

The CHTA President cited job retention programs, tax relief, removal of taxes and duties on certain types of items, and assistance with utilities as examples of ongoing support.

“The COVID experience, while it has been horrific for our economies and for our people, it really has shown us where our strengths lie and where potentially we can do better moving forward. So I think if we focus on those things, you know, we’ll come out on the better side of this,” she added.

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