For the second time in less than two weeks, renowned international hotel chain Sandals Resorts has found itself at the centre of controversy regarding flagrant breaches of COVID-19 protocols that this time has led to harsh sanctions from the Government.
But in a strongly worded, exclusive statement to Barbados TODAY, Sandals Resorts International vehemently refuted the allegations of repeated breaches and is accusing public health officials of heavy-handed action in the middle of dialogue between the hotel and the Ministry of Health.
The five-star property is also contesting an “implication” from authorities that three tourists currently in police custody regarding protocol breaches are in any way associated with its guests.
Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Geoffrey Roach has expressed his support for any penalties imposed on hoteliers that are found to be in breach of the protocols.
Late Tuesday night, after numerous inquiries from Barbados TODAY, the Ministry of Health and Wellness announced in a statement that on January 5, 2020, the Sandals Barbados Resort and Spa is to be delisted as a designated quarantine hotel.
According to the ministry, the actions followed several “verified complaints” of COVID-19 protocol breaches occurring on the sprawling all-inclusive Dover, Christ Church property.
But hours later, Sandals Resorts International told Barbados TODAY that at no point had Ministry of Health officials who were stationed daily at the resort informed them of any perceived breaches until they received a recent letter from Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George. According to Sandals, the alleged breaches were refuted in writing and a request was made for further review of the allegations and follow-up meeting between the parties.
The resort further argued that the only other discussions of that nature occurred in a meeting on Tuesday, when Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins informed hoteliers that the Ministry of Health was in discussions with “all” hotels regarding the protocols.
Sandals told Barbados TODAY: “We were amazed therefore that as this conversation was ongoing, we had to read in the press that the Minister of Health has issued a statement speaking to delisting Sandals Barbados as a designated quarantine hotel.”
The Jamaica-based chain, owned by magnate Gordon Butch Stewart declared its dedication to “stringent compliance of any and all new protocols”, noting that it possesses both the capacity and experience to implement the protocols effectively.
It added: “In fact, we have separated our two hotels so that one is used exclusively as a quarantine facility before guests move to the second hotel to enjoy their vacation. These hotels are operated as separate entities, with zero comingling of guests in order to ensure that all arrivals are properly quarantined. This is just one example of the extensive measures taken to ensure travellers are in compliance to allow guests ease and comfort while they abide by mandatory quarantine procedures, without difficulty.
“As we work toward resolving this matter we do hope that the Minister of Tourism, the Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer, who have not yet been to our hotel to see the protocols in operation, can prioritise a visit to do so.”
The health ministry’s release on Sandals contained information about three tourists who were being held in connection with alleged breaches of quarantine protocols.
Barbados TODAY has learned that one of the tourists is believed to have falsified his/her COVID-19 documentation, while the other two allegedly removed their quarantine wristbands.
Two of the alleged offenders are believed to be from the United Kingdom, but it is still unclear where any of the three visitors were staying in Barbados.
In its attempt to clear the air, Sandals declared: “There is no such issue involving any Sandals guests, which was confirmed when it was brought to the attention of the Minister of Tourism.”
The dramatic developments unfolded about 24 hours after Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic, Attorney General Dale Marshall and Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Dr Jerome Walcott promised decisive action against tourists and hoteliers that flaunt the country’s COVID-19 protocols.
When contacted on Tuesday, BHTA Chairman Geoffrey Roach said the association would not be challenging the decisions regarding the rules as they are within the purview of the Ministry of Health.
“The BHTA represents the members, but if the members are wrong, what is there to represent?” asked Roach.
“We are not going to go out there and argue… where somebody is wrong, that they should be forgiven for doing wrong, because this is a health crisis.
“So if you are not complying with the regulations, then health has every right to take the actions that are under their purview by law.”
Sandals properties elsewhere in the Eastern Caribbean have found themselves at ground zero in the battle against the virus.
Earlier this month, Grenada’s Ministry of Health linked Sandals Grenada to a cluster of COVID-19 cases that forced a new partial lockdown of the island following an unprecedented spike of 26 positive cases in the span of a day.
In October, Sandals Saint Lucia flatly denied allegations of a COVID-19 outbreak at the resorts just after they had reopened there, declaring: “Nothing could be further from the truth, and we effusively deny these baseless rumours.”
Here, the Ministry of Health has urged other hoteliers to take note of its latest action.
It said: “The Ministry of Health and Wellness takes the issue of breaches of the COVID-19 protocols very seriously and will take similar action if other designated quarantine hotels and villas refuse to uphold the rules and regulations that have been put in place to protect workers in the hotel sector, and by extension the rest of the country.”