The decision to reopen tourism on May 8 with new protocols is a premature act of the Government’s “gambling problem”, a Barbadian economist based in Canada declared Tuesday, suggesting the country is not ready for a large influx of tourists.
Despite the industry’s role as the main engine of the economy, Carlos Forte blamed the Mia Mottley administration for the arrival of a virulent and deadly strain of the coronavirus from the UK, which has led to a steep rise in infections and deaths since a fresh outbreak at the start of the year.
In a statement to Barbados TODAY, the economist said: “Though the importance of tourism to Barbados’ economic and social development cannot be overstated, any objective assessment of where Barbados is now in the fight to protect Barbadians from the menacing COVID disease, suggests that the government’s decision to roll out the welcome mat for extra-regional tourists on May 8 is premature.
He said: “Clearly the Mottley administration has not learnt from its missteps leading up to the December outbreak that led to a surge of COVID infections, deaths, strain on the health care system and another mandated lockdown.”
Prime Minister Mottley announced two weeks ago that she was comfortable that the island was ready to once again welcome tourists with new protocols in place, pointing out that long-stay visitors contribute tremendously to the economy.
She said: “If those persons are not coming to Barbados what then happens? All of a sudden there is a massive reduction in the amount of goods and services that we sell, in the amount of rides a taxi man can get, a reduction in the amount of goods a vendor on the beach can sell . . . all of these things are immediately contracted.
“Whether we like it or not we take risk in life every day, but in taking risk we try to be safe, and the country therefore must be no different in ensuring that safety remains our primary concern even as we open back up to the world.”
She gave an assurance that a “tripartite monitoring committee” is in place to work with stakeholders over the weeks leading to May 8 “to make sure that our protocols are as tight as they can be” and that the framework for monitoring is also tight.
But Forte said he was not convinced, declaring that it seemed Government had “a gambling problem” by placing “a wager on tourism that could compromise the health, lives and livelihood of Barbadians”.
“Either that or the Government is not fully appraised to the science around COVID, its variants and the approved vaccines,” added Forte.
Acknowledging that it could be considered unusual for an economist to be leaning more towards public health rather than economic or financial interests, he said the simple reason was that a healthy population could easily “pave the way for a resurgent economy, jobs, income and profits”.
He said even if Government was only prepared to welcome vaccinated tourists “there is a rub”.
Forte said: “As of April 17, the portion of the population that received at least one vaccine dose is 48 per cent in Britain, 38 per cent in the United States and 23 per cent in Canada, Barbados’ largest tourism source markets. For fully vaccinated people, those numbers drop to population shares of 14 per cent in Britain, 24 per cent in the Unites States and 2 per cent in Canada.”
He further pointed out that the US and Canada are unlikely to reach 70 per cent herd immunity until the end of August, and there is still some level of uncertainty as to whether vaccines prevent people from contracting COVID-19.
He said: “No one can declare with any confidence that vaccinated tourists offer Barbadians protection from the spread of COVID-19 or the introduction of new more contagious and deadlier variants.
“Desperate attempts to catch at short-stay tourists based on a policy of vaccinated tourists and a short quarantine are nothing more than an unadulterated gamble.
“What will offer Barbadians protection is reaching close to 70 per cent of the local population vaccinated with at least one dose.
“With the severe vaccine supply shortages worldwide, Barbados is unlikely to achieve that by August. It most certainly will not achieve that by May 8.
“In the meantime, longer quarantine periods would be required for inbound travelers if Barbados is to avoid another surge and more lockdowns.
“Focus only on attracting tourists prepared to stay for periods longer than six-weeks. That way, there would be no need to compromise sensible quarantine periods until Barbados has reached herd immunity.”