Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Here's how two Caribbean countries are handling the "new normal" and adjusting their medical protocols to adapt to the changing nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As cases started spiking in a number of U.S. states in late June, several Caribbean nations had just reopened for tourism, and others were in the final planning stages. At least in some islands, changes in arrival protocol have been deemed necessary.

The move by Jamaica, which had opened in mid-June, was to announce new pre-testing requirements for visitors from high-risk U.S. states.

Effective for travel on or after July 10, travelers from Florida, Texas, New York and Arizona were instructed to upload the results of a Covid-19 test, not older than seven days before the date of travel, to the visitjamaica.com site prior to departure so that their arrival can be approved before they've left the U.S.

"We must have a response mechanism in place, and we're negotiating with an international logistics company to assist with repatriating any visitors who become positive after arriving in Jamaica," said tourism minister Edmund Bartlett.

He spoke during a June 30 webinar sponsored by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, whose topic was the reopening of tourism in the Caribbean.

Despite the stringent entry requirements, Bartlett said he was optimistic that "Jamaica is in a position for a reasonable summer, and I expect to see a pickup in activity in November. Tourism will take off in 2021.

Each Caribbean destination appears to be managing its reopening in a very fluid atmosphere "with the science changing daily," he added. "We have to be able to pivot as circumstances change.

"The U.S. is our market. It is our life, our oyster, it accounts for 50% of all visitors and over 70% when cruise numbers are added in. We have to manage this," he said.

Jamaica "did well" in June, with 6,000 visitors and residents arriving during the month. Additional flights are arriving in July: up to 20 a day into Montego Bay and Kingston, and more than 15,000 workers are back on the job, "but we are monitoring the situation in the U.S. very carefully," he said.

Further south, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the island took strict measures in March to contain the spread of the virus, and with few visitors able to reach the destination due to travel restrictions, the destination has seen a low number of cases, according to Glen Beache, CEO of the Tourism Authority. 

In its first reopening phase, which runs through July 30, the country requires that visitors be tested on arrival (the test is $40)  and undergo a 24-hour quarantine in their hotel while awaiting results; those who arrive with proof of a negative test conducted within 72 hours of arrival don't have to quarantine. "They're free to go about enjoying the destination, drinking our rum and enjoying themselves," Beache said.

In addition, all travelers must complete an online health questionnaire and submit to screening upon arrival.
Beache said that based on data gained during Phase One, travelers will have testing done in Phase Two depending upon their country of origin.

"Finding the balance is the most difficult aspect of all of this," he said. "We are observing the situation globally and will adjust where necessary. There is no tried and true way. This is new territory for all of us in the region and we can't take our foot off the pedal."

Air service into SVG resumes July 11 with an American flight from Miami. "We don't have the JFK flight back yet, and I estimate that 60% of those arriving here will be Vincentians and the rest tourists," Beache said.

Both Bartlett and Beache agreed that the Caribbean these days is in uncharted territory.

"We can't separate the health and safety element of our people from the economic impact of tourism on our destinations," Beache said.

Take, for example, St. Maarten. On June 30, the day before it was to reopen its borders, its prime minister announced that all U.S. visitors were barred from entry for at least two weeks.

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