The threat of the Coronavirus is yet another reminder that Barbados can no longer afford to put all of its eggs in the tourism basket.
This is the view of Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley, who is concerned that the rapid spread of the deadly virus has the potential to stagnate this country’s bread and butter industry.
In a recent interview with Barbados TODAY, Atherley urged the Mia Mottley- administration not to ignore this latest warning about the urgent need for economic diversification.
“The cruise industry is taking a heavy beating from this and I don’t even know the quantum of money that has already been lost but already it is in the millions of dollars. If people don’t travel, then that has a serious effect on our main industry. We are too over-reliant on the tourism industry and this should send a message to us that we need to do something about that,” said Atherley.
He further explained, “I am also concerned about the ripple effect to the wider economy. It is not here yet, but it is in the US and that is bad enough. It is in Europe and that is bad enough because these are the countries that we depend on for tourism. It throws into sharp focus the lack of wisdom on relying solely on the tourism industry. It is too volatile and too subject to all kinds of dynamics.”
Barbados has maintained a clean bill of health so far since the Coronavirus outbreak in China last December. However, since then the disease has spread to every country in Europe as well as the United States. Several cruise ships have reported positive cases, resulting in passengers having to undergo weeks of quarantine. The US has also issued advisories against cruise travel for persons over 60 as well as those with underlying immune compromising conditions. Several Caribbean countries have already turned away vessels with persons showing symptoms of respiratory illnesses, adding to the uncertainty of the sector.
Atherley told Barbados TODAY that he has already begun to see the ripple effect of this chain of events, which he believes would get worse as the spread of the disease widens. He pointed out that he was immediately concerned about the frontline people such as taxi drivers, and was hoping that Government was in the process of devising measures that would shield these persons from the full impact.
“I am really concerned about the impact on the economy. We can’t continue to have vessels coming to the country and they can’t berth and passengers can’t disembark. I was down in the port yesterday afternoon talking to some of the taxi operators because I knew they would have the first sense of the impact of this thing. Before the Coronavirus they were struggling because you have almost 270 taxis down there competing fiercely for scarce work every day and this is going to get worse. Those guys are in the frontline and they have families to feed,” Atherley explained
On Sunday, three cruise ship passengers aboard the cruise liner Costa Magica, who were exhibiting respiratory symptoms and suspected of possibly having COVID-19, had their samples taken and tested for the coronavirus after arriving in Barbados. The results were negative.
The ship docked in Barbados after being denied entry in Tobago with a total 2,307 passengers and 962 crew. These included 417 Italians who would have boarded the vessel between February 28 and March 6.
None of the ship’s passengers or crew was permitted to disembark in Barbados and the ship left on Monday after taking on supplies.