One economist is giving the Mia Mottley administration thumbs down for re-opening the island to commercial flights when it did, describing the move as “premature” with the potential to be “counterproductive”.
Canada-based economist Carlos Forte argued that the risks associated with the disease were as high as they were three months ago when the island first put shutdown and curfew measures in place.
And he said that what has been achieved so far through social distancing and other measures could easily be reversed with the decision to welcome commercial flights.
This, he said, would not only put a strain on the island’s already burdened healthcare system, but also result in death and economic calamity.
“The Mottley administration’s recent decision to re-open Barbados’ international borders to facilitate international travel reflects the Government’s haste to reboot the local tourism industry. This is premature and may prove to be counterproductive,” he said.
“The Government of Barbados is playing Russian Roulette with the lives and livelihood of Barbadians. As the world is currently witnessing, the United States’ rush to re-open its economy too soon and too liberally, has compromised not just the healthcare of Americans, but also the prospects for America’s economic recovery,” said the Barbados-born economist.
Pointing out that there was still no vaccine to contain the deadly virus, which has infected more than 13.4 million people to date and killed over 578,000 worldwide, Forte said: “The risk associated with COVID-19 are as live as they were in March. Nothing fundamentally has changed. Indeed, in some ways the risks are greater today than they were two or three months ago.”
Barbados welcomed its first planeload of 132 passengers last Sunday from Canada, following the temporary halt in international commercial flights since April.
Currently, visitors from destinations considered “low-risk” for COVID-19 are required to present a negative test taken within 72 hours of arriving here, while those from medium to high-risk jurisdictions will be screened after seven days of self-quarantine.
Forte warned that should the island witness an outbreak of the deadly virus due to an influx of visitors in coming days, the economic shock from another shutdown would be “more devastating” to the economy and the social fabric of communities than a gradual, measured re-opening.
Suggesting that Barbados should exercise greater patience in re-opening to visitors, he proposed that a gradual re-opening accompanied by protocols that encourage hygiene, social distancing and wearing of masks would be more prudent.
Forte insisted that given the infection risks associated with air travel and the mounting or high cases in some source markets, the country “should not have rolled out the welcome carpet for tourists at this stage”.
“Indeed, the risks to Barbados posed by the trans-border spread of COVID-19 are greater today than they were in March when countries across the world began instituting border closures and grounding airlines,” said Forte.
Government has implemented a set of COVID-19 public health protocols for air travel to the island effective July 12.
Among the requirements is the completion of an online form at least 24 hours to travel and the wearing of masks. Persons travelling to Barbados are encouraged to take a PCR test 72 hours prior to their departure.
Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds has revealed that instead of late this month, commercial flights from the US could be postponed until “early September” due to the alarmingly high infection rates there.
Despite the measures in place, Forte is suggesting that Barbados should have still waited until the winter tourist season to welcome visitors.
“By that time, we would be in a better position to reassess the risk associated with tourism as various hotspots in North America and Europe may be dissipated by then. At that time, we will also be closer to the availability of an effective vaccine,” he said.
“Can you imagine the damage to Barbados’ tourism product if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a few hotels or communities? Why risk compromising the traditional peak tourism season and the economic recovery? Do not let COVID-19 containment fatigue breed desperation,” he warned.
Forte said it seemed ironic that Government did not learn from the island’s “brush with danger” earlier this year or the “missteps” of US authorities as it pursues a policy that places the economy and Barbadians in harm’s way.
At the same time, Forte has lauded Government for doing a “reasonably good job” in managing and containing the spread of the pandemic, saying it was “appropriate” that the decision was taken to lift the curfew and relax other measures to allow local economic activity to resume.
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