The travel advisory urging Americans to “reconsider” travel to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean is not aimed at penalising these countries, but to ensure that they keep the COVID-19 pandemic under local control, a US diplomat has insisted.
And Leland Lazarus of the US Embassy for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean based here sought to portray the development as a positive in response to concerns raised about the advisory on VOB’s Down to Brass Tacks radio call-in programme today.
The advisory represents a lifting of some of the restrictions on travel that US citizens had to endure over the last five months, he suggested, even as his country lags behind all other rich nations in containing the spread of the virus that is projected to kill as many as 300,000 Americans by year-end.
Lazarus said: “The US is still trying hard to contain the virus in its own borders, but is also trying to work with countries around the world to ensure COVID-19 becomes something we only read about in the history books.
“It is not retaliatory; we have reduced it from Level 4, which is ‘do not travel at all’, to Level 3, which is to consider travel, but the reality is that it is a phased approach and you do not go from Level 4 to 1 in just a week.”
Yet, he added: “Barbados and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean have done a fantastic job in containing COVID-19, so this is not passing any judgement on Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.”
Lazarus said the US Government had also been contributing to the region’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.
He told the programme: “Over the last few decades the US Government has contributed over $600 million to health care in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
“In fact, this year alone, we contributed US$6 million [$12 million] to the Best-Dos Santos Laboratory which has been managing the COVID-19 testing process in Barbados, and we also gave $1.7 million to the Barbados Defence Force Field Hospital at Jemmott’s Lane which is being used for COVID-19 patients.”
The diplomat stressed that the advisories had gone out to countries all over the world since the pandemic began to spread earlier this year.
He said: “Because COVID-19 is still a huge issue in the US, we still want to advise people not to travel or to reconsider travelling. We would not want people in the US to export it abroad, neither do we want anyone exposed to it abroad to bring it back to the US.”
But while Lazarus also issued a caution for anyone in Barbados wishing to travel to the US, which has now recorded some 5.2 million cases of COVID-19, he did not urge them to reconsider travelling.
He said: “Follow the precautions issued by the Ministry of Health and those listed on the Centre for Disease Control’s website, make sure the states they are going to are not areas with large hotspots, wear masks at all times, practice social distancing and wash their hands regularly.
“When COVID-19 first came to the US, the epicentre was New York City, but now they have it under control. It is now spreading in the southern states, so anyone heading in that direction will have to be even more careful.”
Barbados was last week put under a blanket advisory issued throughout the English-speaking Caribbean and Canada by the US Department of State urging Americans to reconsider travel here.
The ‘level three’ travel warning, issued on the State Department’s Travel.state.gov website, told Americans to reconsider travelling to Barbados “due to health and safety measures and COVID-related conditions”.
The statement said: “The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for Barbados due to COVID-19. Barbados has lifted stay at home orders, and resumed some transportation options, and business operations.”
The US travel warning system reserves its sharpest alert – level four – for Guyana, Haiti and the Bahamas – “do not travel”.
At the other end of the spectrum worldwide is New Zealand, which earned a level two warning to travellers to “exercise increased caution”. That country has since reported a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 after going 150 days without a confirmed case.
But the warning came from Washington as the US itself remains the only rich industrialised nation where the virus has been severe and rampant for the last four months, with record infection rates and deaths.
To date, the US has recorded more five million cases of COVID-19 and 163,340 deaths while Barbados has recorded seven deaths from 143 confirmed cases. With four per cent of the global population, the US accounts for 22 per cent of deaths from the viral illness.
On its website, the CDC states that the COVID-19 risk in Barbados is high.
It advised travellers to avoid all nonessential international travel to Barbados. “Some examples of essential travel may include travelling for humanitarian aid work, medical reasons, or family emergencies,” it said.
“Older adults, people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions, and others at increased risk for severe illness should consider postponing all travel, including essential travel, to Barbados.”
The United States remains on the list of high-risk countries for Barbados. Under current COVID-19 protocols, travellers from the US must quarantine here for 14 days unless they present a valid negative PCR test on arrival and test negative when retested five to seven days since their initial test.