Time to Open
Submitted by Petko
I wish to preface this by stating in no way am I affiliated with or have any financial interest in the tourism or travel industry, as I know what I write below will have people stating I have only written to push a personal financial agenda.
The time for Barbados to open her borders completely is now. By this I mean in particular the 2nd test and hotel quarantine policy of tourists and returning Barbadians has to be terminated. As well the mandatory Harrison Point isolation of any person testing positive for Sars-Cov2 virus should also be scrapped.
The coronavirus is endemic in Barbados, no wordsmithing such as clusters or West Coast or North Coast spread can deny this fact. In addition, I put forth that it has been endemic since March. Only a naïve person can believe that the virus has not been constantly circulating since it was first tested for in March. Barbados opened her borders in mid June and did not institute the second test of incoming persons until mid-October. If people have been found positive on the second test since October, it is only logical to surmise the same percentage of people were positive from June to October that were landing here. Hence the virus has always been here and circulating. The only thing that happened during this Christmas season is that a local Bajan was tested with the virus being detected. This was followed by the mass testing to find the 500+ positives we have now. It is common knowledge that from May to now the local population has barely been tested, there were days in June with 15 tests reported – from a population of 285,000 people. Testing only reached 60-120 per day when the testing of incoming passengers began.
Based on the above we can extrapolate that with a circulating virus the health care system at no time was over-whelmed. The fact is when you don’t test for the coronavirus you don’t find the coronavirus as 98% of people who “catch” it suffer at most a common cold and thus you wouldn’t even know it existed. Currently we see that from the 560+ current cases not a single person is in serious condition. From 200 positive prisoners we see that 95% are asymptomatic. We have 1 year of data, we know that people over the age of 80 are vulnerable to this as they are to a flu – these people need protection and caution, but the 30 year old Sea-doo operator is at zero risk to Sars-Cov2.
The argument some have of shutting the borders is to be polite, pure nonsense. I find it quite hypocritical when people accuse incoming persons of bringing and spreading the “dreaded” virus. Consequently, these same people are quite happy to receive the hard currency these people bring, the pharmaceutical supplies, the TV’s and laptops and the Toyota Hilux’s that a modern society requires. We have always lived in a globalized world which trades in goods, knowledge and disease – this is the human condition.
There is no finger pointing here, the fact is with all the protocols on incoming passengers, the coronavirus is here and has been here. Even if 100% of humanity was vaccinated for this virus it will still exist as the vaccines are not eliminating the virus but making its care manageable. Manageable is the key word here. Barbados needs to manage the situation in a rational way that considers the positives and negatives of every action.
Tourism is the lifeblood of the nation; it will be the lifeblood in 100 years. Barbados nor any country in the Caribbean is going to start manufacturing pickup trucks or OLED TV’s – the core competency is the tourism product which arose from the glorious weather that this region is blessed with. We should be championing it rather than disparaging it, as some do. Currently Barbados is the only country in the region which requires the 2nd test in-country with the threat of going into isolation. What has this resulted in?
Well, the coronavirus is here and is not going anywhere, even post-vaccine. Thus, a ZERO Covid policy is sheer folly and unscientific. Next it has resulted in a drop of 95% to the tourism product resulting in up to 40% unemployment as well as a government stressed to its financial borrowing limits. Currently Barbados is receiving 350 incoming passengers per day on 4 major international flights. A quick look at our neighbours shows a different picture.
Montego Bay is handling 33 flights per day, Aruba has 19 flights daily, Cancun has 100 and Nassau 16. These locations require either no test of any kind or a negative PCR test 3-5 days old and nothing else. Yes, these countries have “cases” but so does Barbados. The difference is these countries are managing the situation and keeping their economy and tourism lifeblood functional. Travellers will put up with bringing a negative PCR test (for now – in 2 months when the entire USA has immunity do not expect Americans choosing destinations requiring tests) and they are showing it with their travel to these destinations. There is also the threat that once a long-time visitor to Barbados has tried out another destination such as Aruba, they may never come back here.
The BLP unfortunately painted itself into a corner with an unrealistic goal and message of Zero Covid. They now have the opportunity to exit this strategy and embrace that of managing the disease as well as the tourism product. I have no doubt that both can be done at an exceptional level in Barbados. Time is of the essence and the 2021 Winter tourist season is not done yet. February and March provide the traditional breaks in the source markets of the UK, USA and Canada. Literally tens of thousands of people are ready to travel to the Caribbean and if Barbados keeps its onerous and unproductive 2nd test none of these people will grace our shores. Thousands could be put back into employment, the economy would begin its rebound and we would be moving forward.
Pursuing the 2nd test strategy will only result in Barbados staying in its current sclerotic state. PM Mottley has been adamant in Barbadians should embrace change, well the BLP and herself needs to now do the same. The old policy did not and could not work, pivot and manage and let Barbados get back on her feet in 2021.