TOURISM Minister Dominic Fedee is optimistic that as the country make strides, people would be better able to reintegrate into society and tackle the health and economic issues posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The minister, who also holds responsibility for Broadcasting and Information sat down with the hosts of the ‘Morning Heat’ on Blazin FM last week to discuss several issues pertinent to the impact and responses that citizens have experienced due to Covid-19.
Fedee, chairman of the Command Centre was quizzed about complaints whereby people feel there is a disparity between the ‘luxuries and the freedoms’ that tourists experienced, as compared to locals.
With much focus on the local transmission of the virus, what arrangements have been put in place to deal with visitors to the island?
The minster replied: “Had we not strike a balance between keeping our economy open closely …the COVID-19 pandemic was going to be harder to bear.”
He said the government did not make the decision “because we wanted tourists to come”, rather there were bills piling up, vendors could not earn an income, and the livelihoods of taxi drivers was also impacted.
Several hotels workers are not yet back at work, and those returning to work are working less hours, but still have to pay their mortgage bills and other expenses.
“These people’s income have been severely impacted and that was the basis for the foundation that we decided that we need to open,” said Fedee.
He added, “If we stayed closed we would be creating a tremendous amount of hardship for taxi drivers, waitresses, small business people” and many other livelihoods.
Fedee noted, “Not only has the pandemic brought about a lot of physiological challenges and health issues, it has brought about significant economic pain on our population.”
He said that government kept the agriculture sector going “so that farmers can export their bananas to the UK,” and kept the manufacture sector going as well.
Fedee said it was not all about tourism, for there was ‘special curfew hours’ for factory workers “where you need to export to get income coming into the country” and they were issued with a ‘special pass’.
“We had to look at the economy and say this is the best thing to do, in the interest of all of us,” said the minister.
He explained that about 60% of workers in the range of 10, 000 persons have been reemployed in the hotel sector.
What are the prospects for more workers getting back on the job?
“That depends on a lot of things …as there is mass vaccination going on in our key source markets,” said Fedee.
He noted that the US and UK “are doing a tremendous job in getting their people vaccinated” and are about the 50% threshold with their vaccination campaign ; while more than 24, 000 locals have been vaccinated.”
Hotels were shut down in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, and though at times it may have appeared to be “politically correct”, he continued , there is no need to ‘brag and boast’ about accomplishments.
Fedee said government took a critical look at the hotel sector, since later down the road these same hotels would have to re-hire workers and “we have to do so with as little damage as possible to the hotel and their reputation internationally, but at the same time not compromising the safety of the employers and employees.”
He stressed that, “We have taken strong action and we have not relented” in ensuring that the protocols are adhered to, including penalizing visitors found guilty of infringements.
Fedee said that boat tours and excursions have to be regulated with the necessary protocols in place. He warned that there is no ‘leniency’ involved towards visitors or locals breaking those regulations, as “very strong punitive action” will be taken “if we found anyone in breach and that includes hotels.”