Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced on Sunday that the island’s borders would be opened to international visitors on June 15, who would voluntarily determine whether they want to be tested by health professionals upon arrival.
He noted that the Jamaican economy, like most countries globally, has suffered a severe setback as a result of the pandemic.
“The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) recently reported an [estimated] decline of 1.7 per cent in real gross domestic product [GDP] for [the] quarter ending March 2020, and has projected a decline of 12 to 14 per cent for the April to June quarter and four to six per cent for the fiscal year 2020/21 overall,” Holness informed.
He said this represented the most significant economic decline Jamaica has recorded in over four decades and, as such, it is key that the full resumption of economic activities be facilitated.
Holness said that the Government will be seeking to implement new controlled entry protocols that will be based on a risk assessment of the countries from which persons are seeking to enter Jamaica.
He said countries that have a similar management and profile results for the epidemic such as spread, death rate, infection prevention, control measures, and contact tracing protocols could constitute a “travel bubble” that would determine the protocols to be applied to entry from those states. Persons seeking to enter Jamaica from countries within the travel bubble, he said, “may not need to be tested on arrival.”
Travel bubbles, also called travel bridges or corona corridors, do away with that waiting period for a select group of travellers from certain countries where the coronavirus has been contained. In a travel bubble, a set of countries agree to open their borders to each other, but keep borders to all other countries closed.
“They would, however, be subjected to health status screening, including temperature checks, checks for symptoms, and everyone must go through a sensitisation programme with public health officials utilising flyers and audio-visuals.
“We're also considering including a pledge document which everyone coming in would need to sign to indicate that they would observe the protocols here that all Jamaicans have been observing which would have served us well,” said Holness.
He said based on the health status and risk assessment by a public health officer of those re-entering the country, Jamaicans will be subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period if they are not coming from a travel bubble country.
Tourists will not be subjected to this unless they exhibit symptoms of the virus, the prime minister said.
Tourism minister Edmund Bartlett is maintaining that his ministry would be putting in place what he describes as “robust” measures to safeguard the health of future visitors, when the tourism industry’s operations resumes.”
He however declined to say what measures will be implemented to ensure that the health of the island’s tourism workers is not compromised. It is estimated that there are in excess of 350-thousand persons who depend on the tourism industry for a livelihood.
Bartlett, says his ministry has been working overtime with local and international experts to refine all the requisite protocols, to make Jamaica the most COVID-resilient tourist destination globally.
“We are working towards a summer opening. Our opening is imminent, but I don’t have a date as of yet. Thank goodness, however, we are flattening the [Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID19)] curve and the rate of death has remained static,” Bartlett told the Jamaica Information Service.
Bartlett argued that with a summer restart, the industry could record visitor arrivals averaging between 20 and 30 per cent, with the figure rounding down to 20 per cent during the fall period, before picking up to about 60 or 70 per cent over the winter season.
“We could end up with another two million visitors – somewhere around 50 per cent of last year, if we can have a summer start… between June and August,” he added.
The majority of Jamaica’s tourism comes from the United States, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom and many European Union Countries, many of which are still being affected by the Covid-19 virus.
In addition, countries like the United States, Spain, Italy and Brazil are yet to bring the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease in their countries under control.
The Minister said that with the Caribbean being the most tourism-dependent region globally, there is no room for complacency, noting that regional heads have to prepare for the “ushering of a new era.”
“Before the threat of the novel coronavirus, Jamaica’s tourism sector was confidently entering into its tenth consecutive year of growth.
Bartlett pointed out that the industry’s out-turns for first two months of the calendar year – January and February- were “strong”.
“We had 5.5 per cent gross tourist arrivals – we brought in 1.25 million visitors and earned US$859 million dollars. That would have put us on a path to earn US$4 billion by the end of the year, with 4.5 million visitors.
We were doing extremely well. However, as of March 10, the numbers fell to zero. You can imagine the horror of that moment! That’s a big blow,” he informed.
Following a record-breaking year in 2019, tourism receipts for January and February indicated that the sector was growing at a rate of 5.2% in 2020. Today the industry… filled with uncertainty and economic challenges… is facing a new paradigm,” Mr. Bartlett added.
He, however, lauded the work of the public health teams, under the leadership by Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton, whom, he said, have done “a very good job in terms of containment” the COVID-19 outbreak.
Consequently, Mr. Bartlett said “we have less than 50 people in hospitals and over 100 in recovery”, which is an encouraging indicator for the future.
The country's borders were closed to incoming passenger traffic on March 24 to limit the community spread of COVID-19.
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