The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) has asked the region’s government leaders to reduce the isolation periods for travelers to align with the United Kingdom and the United States to avoid reversing the progress made by the tourism sector since the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the Caribbean’s most important economic driver.
In a letter to Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda, outgoing chairman of CARICOM (Caribbean Community), CHTA President Nicola Madden-Greig noted that both the U.K. and the U.S. are reducing the isolation period for COVID-positive persons. The revised U.S. protocol allows for five days and the U.K. for seven days’ confinement. Presently, some Caribbean jurisdictions require as many as 14 days in isolation. The data no longer substantiates that length of time, which presents unnecessary financial and personal hardship to residents, visitors, destinations and companies and increasingly will deter travel. CHTA recommends a seven-day period, according to Madden-Greig.
While the Omicron variant is highly contagious, she said, it caused only a “low level of severe illness requiring hospitalization, and a low death rate and has proven to be particularly less virulent for those who are vaccinated.” Accordingly, the faster recovery rates justified moves by the British and American governments to reduce the isolation periods.
Madden-Greig commended Caribbean governments for restraining from closing borders and restricting travel. “Government policies coupled with the efforts of health and tourism officials to enforce health safety protocols,” she contended, “have resulted in the restoration of employment and airlift to near pre-pandemic levels, higher vaccination rates for tourism-related employees, and low positivity test result rates for travelers, preventing massive business failures which would be detrimental to our long-term recovery.”
Reinforcing the critical need to continue to adhere to health safety protocols and increase vaccination levels for Caribbean residents and visitors, Madden-Greig applauded the region’s governments, health officials and the tourism industry for the proactive and effective measures which have been put in place and resulted in the region’s tourism industry recovering faster than any other area of the world.
She cautioned that “overreaction over the coming critical weeks can reverse the progress we’ve made towards recovery.”
Commenting on the importance of regional harmonization for entry, testing and isolation/quarantine requirements, she cited reports of continued confusion in the marketplace about having many and varied requirements by Caribbean governments. This confusion, she cautioned, is a deterrent to travel and is slowing the recovery. The CHTA leader urged greater collaboration by Caribbean governments to align entry, testing and isolation and quarantine policies.
Citing the cost and availability of COVID-19 PCR tests, which can add US$600 to travel costs for a family of four, CHTA recommended that antigen tests approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) be accepted for entry. The Bahamas, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands accept antigen tests and have not reported higher infection rates among tourists.
To help reduce the high cost of PCR tests, the association recommended greater flexibility in sourcing the test as local health authorities work with suppliers to reduce the cost. In closing, the CHTA president reminded the CARICOM head that “well-balanced precautionary and preventive actions have successfully steered our economies towards recovery and must continue to do so.”