Barbadians have been known for great ideas. We can develop unlimited solutions for limitless problems. We also have an unusual inclination for finding the problems for every solution.
The Government’s Barbados Welcome Stamp continues to capture headlines around the globe with popular cable news networks and publication writers still giddy with excitement at a brilliant idea of leaving behind the pandemic for the sandy beaches and favourite haunts on Barbados’ gold coast for up to a year without the attendant hassles that come with living and working in another country.
The offer to weary souls, holed up in metropolitan centres around the world because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), to telecommute from a COVID-19-secure private villa near the beach, is still being talked about with such excitement. We fully expect that various versions of this scheme will be popping up in other tourist-starved destinations.
The return of scheduled international flights to Barbados on Sunday was a welcome development for hoteliers and others in the accommodation industry, even if most of the population is experiencing anxiety about the move. Expectedly, there is a mix of fear and excitement. Most Barbadians know the country’s economy desperately needs the foreign dollars but they also secretly dread the high probability that COVID-19 infections will be an expected consequence.
While the country has developed strict protocols for travellers since the island managed to wrestle new infections down to zero for more than a month, this COVID situation is still very fluid and things could turn on their head even with the very best planning.
Some important questions have been raised about our real capacity to monitor those who visit Barbados with negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result for COVID-19 but who could have been exposed to the virus within the 72 hours of taking the test. There are also concerns about policing visitors who may not be inclined to wear masks for an extended period after they have departed the heavily restricted confines of the Grantley Adams International Airport. Who ensures that our visitors practise social distancing and frequently sanitize their hands?
When you have spent thousands of dollars to take a holiday, particularly in a sun-swept beautiful destination like Barbados, a tourist is likely to lose inhibitions and be carefree. After all, that is why they took the associated risks and expense of leaving their homes to fly across the Atlantic to be here.
It has not gone unnoticed by Barbadians the presence of international celebrity Drake and his entourage who were pictured all over social media, all cozy with no social distancing being practised, and no masks being worn within 24 hours of landing on his private plane.
Which restaurant worker, hotel receptionist or barman is going to remind the multi-millionaire and personal friend of Rihanna to put on his mask or risk not be served? Not the hotel or restaurant worker who has been on the breadline for the last three months.
And so begins the challenge of opening back the country to save the economy, while trying to minimize risk to the society. We will not sit in our armchairs and pronounce on the situation as though it was a simple challenge.
But we can see how things could easily go downhill unless authorities insist that visitors – wealthy and the not so wealthy – as well as Barbadians, adhere to the protocols for reducing the possible spread of COVID-19. We risk having to start the battle with this disease all over again and that is not an option for this country.