Mottley: Safe protocols will guide reopening of Caricom borders

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Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries will adopt measures that will ensure the safety of their citizens as well as tourists as they prepare to reopen their borders post the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Tuesday.

Mottley, who is also the chair of the 15-member regional integration grouping, told the BBC World Service that regional countries, whose economies are highly dependent on the tourism industry, had been severely affected by the virus that was first detected in China last December and blamed for more than 340 000 deaths and 5.5 million infection of others worldwide.

“We are not going to be driven by a date, we are going to be driven by protocols that make us safe because we want to remain safe for our people, we want to remain safe for people who are visiting us and this is not only Barbados’ position but a number of countries within the Caribbean Community,” she said.

Mottley said the pandemic had presented a “difficult moment” for the region and “we are trying to balance lives and livelihoods like everywhere else”, she said, noting that the situation was not dissimilar to what is occurring globally.

“We are in deep conversations with each other on a common public health protocol within the region, we are also having discussions with the airlines and the cruise industry but we are not going to be driven by a date, we are going to be driven by a satisfaction that we have safe protocols that keep our workers safe, keep our people safe, that keep our visitors safe,” she said.

Mottley said she is hoping that the tourism sector would become functional within weeks rather than months “but we need to make sure that we touch all the bases”.

“The big issue is testing and testing before people get on the plane and testing when people arrive. Quite frankly . . . we need access to rapid tests or test protocols that will allow us to determine what is the risk that we are going to take if a person is tested 24 hours before or should the person be tested within a matter of hours before going to check in.”

Mottley said that the region is working through all of the protocols to ensure the safety of both nationals and tourists alike with the relevant stakeholders, including the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association that had written to her on the matter.

“It is not our intention to import . . . but at the same time we have to balance the reality that the Caribbean is among the most travelled, if not the most travelled and trade dependent region in the world, with 50 per cent of our GDP [gross domestic product]effectively coming from it,” she said.

Mottley said that the pandemic had significantly affected revenues, noting “across the entire region you see April will probably be a month where anywhere between 40 to 60 per cent of government revenues have been affected in tourism dependent countries”.

“We have also recognised that the unemployment rates in most cases in countries that are tourism dependent have gone from double to treble in some instances. It is no different from what’s happening in the UK and the US,” she said.

“The difference, however, is we have a much narrower base and there are a number of countries that effectively depend on tourism.”

The Caricom chairman noted that there may have been a silver lining for Caribbean hoteliers, who normally would have used the down period of “our winter season” to undertake rehabilitation work, training and other activities related to their plants.

“But the scale of unemployment has been crippling,’ she added

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