With an anticipated influx of visitors to the destination for this holiday season –tourism industry officials say they are taking precautionary measures to sustain rigidity for persons to adhere to the stipulated health protocols.
Tourism Minister Dr. Ernest Hilaire has assured that port surveillance has been heightened to effectively manage. Increasing tourism arrivals.
According to the authorities, these measures are being implemented in an effort to mitigate any risk of the Omicron variant being introduced on the island during the busy travel period.
Though stringent regulations have not been put in place to cover such issues as travel bands, PCR testing for post-arrivals, and other regulations, Dr. Hilaire stated that the government is doing all within its purview to deal with the process in an efficient manner.
“The Ministry of Health, the Medical Team, the Covid Management Centre …are working very hard trying to ensure we have the right systems in place, and the right surveillance as well in place,” Dr. Hilaire told reporters, this week.
The Minister recalled that he had recently visited the Hewanora International Airport [HIA] and that systems have been adapted to suit the changing times. “We have changed the system slightly… the movement of people was certainly sped up and we were able to process more than 2,000 arrivals as quickly as possible,” he explained.
Health authorities are aware of the tedious task that lies ahead in managing the protocols, which is also compounded with the looming threat of the Omicron variant.
Hilaire indicated that more nurses have been dispatched to the respective ports of entry, to monitor the situation. He added: “ There were more nurses present, so there were more persons reviewing the documents, the applications …so we going to continue to keep our surveillance and the Ministry is putting in place all the necessary plans, should we have another spike, at the soonest.”
Dr. Hilaire said, it has always been a ‘two-fold’ issue in managing the tourism sector. He reiterated that a balance must be maintained in keeping the sector alive while preventing a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Meanwhile, the vendors association is querying as to why this sector does not form part of the ‘tourism bubble’. However, Dr. Hilaire says, vaccination is an essential factor to qualify for participation in the bubble.
“We really need to find a way to make sure that the vendors can also benefit,” he explained. “But if you sit and reflect on it, this is one of the biggest challenges that we have …the cruise ships are supposed to bring in passengers that are negative and that are vaccinated.”
Hilaire said that these tour operators do not want their clientele to mix with persons who are not vaccinated “because if their passengers get affected it can affect the entire ship.”
Likewise, he added, “we don’t want someone or the other to come in who has been infected by the Covid-19 virus and to infect our locals…so it’s a constant challenge and that’s where the concept of bubble comes about.”
Nonetheless, President of the Vendors Association, Peter “Ras Ipa” Isaac felt it necessary to put forward the views of its vendors, who have been severely impacted by the economic downturn that this pandemic has created.
While acknowledging the health and safety protocols in place to safeguard the cruise ships and their passengers, he says that some leeway should be given to allow tourists to visit the Craft Market as some visitors are allowed to roam freely over the country.
Isaac said while he has no qualms with the bubble concept and that persons must be vaccinated, “what we have observed is that people are given the liberty, who have (undertaken) a PCR test and they are fully vaccinated…they are allowed to disembark the ship and go anywhere they wish to go.”
Also, he said, taxi drivers are privileged to take these people on tours. “Therefore, it should not be a problem. No one should try to discourage persons from visiting the Vendors Arcade,” Isaac remarked.
Hilaire said the authorities are set on meeting with the vendors to discuss the matter and try to reach an amicable agreement.