Caribbean leaders are contemplating a region-wide policy that would re-open airports and hotels for intra-regional travel along with passengers from “selected” international countries, a CARICOM statement has revealed.
But Barbados’ ambassador to the 15-member grouping, David Comissiong has assured that a final decision will only be made after extensive discussions between public health experts and regional leaders.
During Tuesday’s Tenth Special Emergency Meeting of CARICOM Heads, leaders were determined to approach the cruise and airline industries with one voice.
Officials from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the University of the West Indies, and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) have submitted recommendations on a draft policy, to be approved by regional heads.
During the meeting, the leaders established a sub-committee led by St Lucian Prime Minister Allen Chastanet to discuss the proposed re-opening with tourism stakeholders including hoteliers, airlines, cruise operators, and labour unions.
Ambassador Comissiong stressed that the countries in the region could not afford to be isolated from each other or the rest of the world due to their heavy dependence on trade and tourism.
“We know that COVID-19 is going to be around for quite some time, so we will have to find efficient ways to re-open and protocols of operation that allow us to restart airline travel within the region and between the region and the outside world, without compromising and endangering the public health of our countries. That is where the technical work comes in,” Comissiong explained.
He also promised that a final decision would only be made after regional heads had met “in caucus” at a later date to discuss the recommendations of stakeholders among themselves.
“We would now have to decide how testing will take place, how many people will be allowed on a plane, and other technical details that would have to be put in place. We will have to work out ways of operating safely in spite of the virus. That’s just the reality. The approach of CARICOM member states is a very careful and measured approach, hence the reason why no definite decisions were made at the heads of Government meeting on Tuesday,” the ambassador stressed.
“So the public can rest assured that our leaders are adopting a very serious and responsible approach to all issues pertaining to this virus and that is one of the reasons why the Caribbean has done so well in keeping on top of this virus unlike several other regions of the world, some of whom have greater resources,” he added.
In addition to the re-opening of borders, the heads continued discussions on the pooling of resources to procure medical devices and gain easier access to supplies through existing structures of the Pan-American Health Organisation, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Pharmaceutical Procurement Service (PPS).
According to the statement, heads also endorsed the region’s COVID-19 Agri-Food Security Action Plan, developed by agriculture stakeholders and aimed at bolstering the region’s food security amid the pandemic.
In the coming weeks, regional heads will also meet to discuss the financial and economic challenges related to the impact of the pandemic. [email protected]