How well is the Caribbean region dealing with the coronavirus outbreak and what measures are in place to maintain visitor confidence in travel to the region?
Responses that I gathered from organizations and destinations throughout the region last week reflected preparation, collaboration and communication.
As of March 6, the number of confirmed cases remained very low in the Caribbean. However, that situation could rapidly change, but by being proactive and responsive, the region appears as ready as it can be to deal with what may lie ahead.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (Carpha) upgraded the risk of possible transmission from "low" to "moderate to high." Executive director Joy St. John urged health authorities to shift mindset from preparedness to readiness and rapid response.
The recently established Covid-19 Caribbean Task Force, made up of representatives from Carpha, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre is focused on raising awareness, sharing accurate information, strengthening monitoring at airports, seaports, hotels and accommodations, training and education.
"Tourism is the lifeblood of the Caribbean. We've come together as organizations to pool resources to ensure that the people of our region and our visitors remain safe from this viral threat," the task force statement said, adding that "our ability to quickly contain any outbreak will be determined by how quickly we can pool information and move our resources."
The task force urged hotels and accommodation providers to register for Carpha's Tourism Health Information System to identify and manage early warning symptoms of employees and guests.
Here are some of the measures currently in place in several island countries. Most destinations are following protocols and guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dominican Republic: One case has been identified, and the patient remains in stable condition, according to the Ministry of Public Health. The new National Commission for the Management of Coronavirus consists of representatives from various agencies and hospitals. Travelers showing symptoms of respiratory illness are assessed by health personnel at ports of entry.
The D.R. actually has received a few large, last-minute meetings and incentive groups that were moving from Asian destinations.
Bahamas: The Ministry of Health is working with government agencies to execute the National Preparedness and Response Plan for the coronavirus. The destination is conducting Covid-19 testing and screening of visitors and residents. Border control and quarantine measures are in place for visitors from China and several other restricted countries.
Aruba: The Ministry of Health and Tourism reported no cases as of last week. Passengers from China, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran are subject to screening and, if necessary, quarantine. A local awareness campaign is underway to educate and inform the public about basic hygiene practices.
St. Lucia: Travel restrictions on non-nationals are in place, including Hong Kong, Italy, Singapore and China. The Department of Health and Wellness and other government agencies are working to execute the destination's National Preparedness and Response Plan.
Bermuda: The Bermuda Tourism Authority, Health Ministry, Hotels Association and other groups are working to ensure health and safety standards are in place and "are focused on raising awareness on this issue to protect residents and visitors," according to Paul Telford, chair of the authority. Bermuda is a Level 1 destination, the safest destination rank, according to the U.S. State Department.
Grenada: The destination implemented a travel ban on non-nationals with recent travel history to China and is assessing travelers from other affected countries. An additional $2 million has been made available to bolster preparedness and is investing in procuring additional medical supplies for hospitals and health centers. Dr. George Mitchell was appointed the Covid-19 coordinator to manage activities related to the virus.
Jamaica: It imposed travel restrictions to five countries, has designated four quarantine facilities, developed capacity to test for the virus and formed the National Disaster Risk Management Council, headed by prime minister Andrew Holness as well as a Covid-19 coordinating task force.
Antigua and Barbuda: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs closed its borders to non-nationals who have traveled to China in the past 28 days. Task-force meetings related to the virus are held on a regular basis related to travel advisories, national preparedness and screening systems at ports of entry.
Barbados: The Ministry of Health and Wellness has screening and testing measures at ports of entry and has a local public health laboratory in place. A quarantine is in effect for those arriving from affected countries, based on procedures and protocols.
Puerto Rico: Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, said that the destination is following guidance from the CDC and the WHO. There have been no reported cases to date.