“Our priority is the health and safety of Saint Lucians”— Tourism Minister
Next week’s phased opening of airports to welcome visitors and locals alike will be done under strict protocols that may or may not be to the liking of returning Saint Lucians.
Replying to questions posed directly by The VOICE, Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee said that government’s policy is clear regarding anyone coming into Saint Lucia from COVID-19 hotspots in that if a Saint Lucian or a foreigner is not going to one of the designated hotels opened to house them, they would be placed in quarantine for 14 days.
“We are not discriminating between local and foreigner. If you are going to one of the hotels where we have the managed environment, (the) strict protocols where your temperature will be checked every day then we can allow it, but if you are not going to one of the quarantine facilities (hotels) then you have to be quarantined. It’s the only way we can ensure that we protect everyone,” Fedee said.
The opening of the country to the outside is being debated across several platforms with many Saint Lucians not in favour of the move, particularly when most of the visitors coming to Saint Lucia will be from the United States of America, which currently houses 30 percent of the COVID-19 affected worldwide population.
According to Fedee the island’s borders are opening up not only to Americans, Saint Lucia’s largest tourism market, but for Caribbean nationals as well. Regarding the United Kingdom and Canada, he said the two countries have a travel restriction that requires their nationals, upon return, to be quarantined for two weeks.
“We don’t think we will get any business from these two countries now. The UK airlines are not indicating they are flying any time soon,” Fedee said.
The Tourism Minister explained that no one, visitor nor foreigner, will enter Saint Lucia without first showing a certificate from a reputable medical facility that they have tested negatively for the virus.
“Our priority is the health and safety of our Saint Lucian people at all times. You must get tested before you come into Saint Lucia. If you are not tested, we are simply saying you are not coming in,” Fedee said, stressing that every visitor coming to Saint Lucia would have to show this certificate.
He noted that it would be tough getting visitors to come to Saint Lucia because of the testing requirements.
“That in itself is going to be a hindrance, but I have no doubt that this will all become part of the new normal of travel,” Fedee said.
Saint Lucia presently has 320 of its citizens in quarantine. They are housed in five different hotels. Most of them are cruise ship workers and they are coming in batches. The total number of cruise ship workers that have entered or will enter is about 550, with about 200 students overseas looking forward to coming back home.
According to the Minister of Tourism, there will be strict protocols visitors coming to Saint Lucia will have to follow.
“When they come through the airports, they will have scanners to scan their temperatures, and every hotel will have to be equipped with scanning materials and equipment that will provide them with the very best evidence of the COVID-19 symptoms. We will reduce the number of buffets at the hotels and what you know as community tourism now does not apply. What we are basically doing is inviting people to a vacation quarantine, if you will. We are saying that you can come and stay at a hotel, but we will not be encouraging Gros Islet Friday night and Castries Market tours. We are trying to reduce as much as possible, the interaction between guests and our people,” Fedee said.
He said some hotel workers will have to use personal protective equipment during their shifts as they would have to be protected, and front desk workers will be operating behind a glass wall.
But which are the hotels that will be open come next week, and are all of them on board with government’s plans for hotels in this COVID-19 era?
“Well, it’s a constant discussion to try to unravel and refine the protocol, but I think what the government is ensuring is that we are prioritizing the health and safety of Saint Lucian nationals. Yes, there is the need to provide livelihoods while you safeguard lives in the response to COVID-19, but what is absolutely critical is to save lives and that would mean that the operations of certain hotels… that their normal way of doing business is going to change dramatically. It is not going to be easy sailing, but we are continuing to refine that process,” Fedee said.
The Minister, when interviewed on Tuesday, said no hotel had been approved for opening next week although the Ministry of Tourism has several applications.
“We have applications, but we haven’t approved any hotel. We have to first inspect them to ensure that they meet all the protocols,” Fedee said.