Tourism interests scramble to avoid fallout as US demands virus test
With the United States set to require proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country as of January 26, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) is aiming to increase PCR testing to 25,000 weekly to accommodate tourists departing Jamaica.
The United States, which supplies the island with 70 per cent of its visitors, is set to follow the United Kingdom and Canada, which also imposed mandatory COVID-19 test requirements last week, causing several persons to be stranded as pressure mounted on the island’s testing systems.
The new protocol requires that all persons, including citizens, show proof of a negative test result within three days prior to travel to facilitate entry or avoid self-quarantine.
JHTA President Clifton Reader said that in collaboration with the Ministry of Health & Wellness and other authorities, they are exploring the setting up of collection points in all resort towns from which they would send samples to Miami for processing and have the results returned to Jamaica in quick time.
Each test will attract a cost of J$20,000 or US$142.00 for each visitor.
In addition, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett will establish a crack team of troubleshooters, made up the likes of the JHTA president, Chukka’s John Byles, Tourism Linkages Chairman Adam Stewart, the Tourism Product Development Company’s Ian Dear and the ministry’s senior adviser and strategist Delano Seiveright.
“Our aim is to develop along with the Ministry of Health and private sector stakeholders the capacity required to drive the establishment of the testing for tourists coming to Jamaica, in accordance with the requirements of their respective countries,” said Bartlett.
Fast-tracking the previously announced Jamaica Cares insurance programme, the tourism minister said this would be officially launched on February 1.
Jamaica Cares will provide end-to-end insurance coverage facilitating testing, hospitalisation, quarantine if necessary, repatriation and vaccine possibilities for tourists coming to Jamaica. It is not yet clear what the cost will be to the tourists, but Bartlett said it would be well within their ability.
The insurance complements protocols already established within the sector to mitigate any COVID-19 outbreak.
“We will not fall down and die, because the economy of Jamaica is dependent on tourism,” said Bartlett, the architect of the resilient corridor that has been copied by a number of other islands.
The tourism minister posited that the next three months will be the most critical to the country’s foreign exchange income, as this was the period when the country earns the highest.
In addition, he said that it was also critical to keep the thousands of workers in the industry in their jobs.
Already, the country is seeing load factors below 40 per cent, which is leading to a situation where the planes will stop flying, said Bartlett.
He noted that while he recognised that the need and responsibility of all governments to protect their citizens during this global health crisis, he is urging the larger nations to remember that small countries in the Caribbean will be decimated if tourism dies.