Caricom countries begin to slowly open up

Bert Wilkinson | 5/21/2020, midnight
Locked down because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a number of Caribbean Community nations this week announced plans for a ...
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Locked down because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a number of Caribbean Community nations this week announced plans for a phased restart of economic activities and a reopening of borders in the coming weeks. But the main regional lifeline airlines will remain grounded until governments give the full green light for the resumption of commercial flights.

Trinidad, Barbados, St. Lucia, Suriname, The Bahamas, Dominica are among those which have begun the phased restart of activities. In most cases, health authorities have flattened the curve or authorities have recorded not a single positive case or fatality in several consecutive days. Overall, fewer than 100 deaths have been recorded in the bloc of 15 nations.

In Trinidad, the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced the full resumption of the construction and manufacturing sectors along with associated services like quarries. A $300 grant has also been passed to taxis and buses to support the increase in activities with the removal of work restrictions in these areas.

But Rowley and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh warned locals not to let up with preventative measures, with Rowley being adamant that protective face gear remains a basic requirement for interacting with the public.

“No masks, no service. If you don’t have a mask I am sure you will have a bandanna near you. You don’t need the government to tell you it is dusty or how to put a bandanna over your face. Let not that be a big problem,” he said. The twin island with Tobago had a week ago relaxed restrictions for food businesses to open and had also extended operating hours for groceries and other stores.

“If we do anything that results in us going back to the beginning and do the shut downs again and the stay homes, we will hurt more economically. The thing to do is to continue to measure the risk, follow the science and make opening-up decisions based on our understanding the threat that could come and also how much we have been successful,” Rowley noted.

To the north in St. Lucia, Prime Minister Allan Chastanet set June 4 for the gradual reopening of borders. Officials there are not too worried about the situation with just 18 confirmed cases. June 4 means that regional and international travel will resume after several weeks.

“Our strategic plan to reopen our economy and country in phases, after weeks of a partial shutdown due to COVID-19,” the PM said. “We are in a fairly good position to do so based on a number of reasons including the fact that all 18 of our confirmed cases of COVID-19 have successfully recovered.”

Jamaica had recorded the region’s first case on March 10. Guyana followed the very next day. These two remain among the countries with the highest numbers with Jamaica headed to about 550. Guyana is close to 120.

The Bahamas, meanwhile, has set July 1 for the resumption of commercial travel. The island chain just south of Florida has been hit hard by the travel and tourism lockdown, in addition to the battering it took from a superstorm last summer.

“I want to repeat, however, that this date is not final. It will be adjusted if we see a deterioration of the COVID-19 infection trends or if we’ve determined that the protocols and procedures are not in place sufficiently to warrant this opening. Our opening will depend on your cooperation. Our life commencing to the new normal will depend on your co-operation. The success of our economy will depend on your cooperation,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.

But even as other governments are considering similar action, the situation remains tricky in Suriname with general elections set for May 25. Some political parties are clamoring for mass rallies but most have been using online services to campaign ahead of the polls.

It is unclear how the situation would be managed at polling booths and who will enforce social distancing rules to ensure no new positive cases pop up after more than a week of no positives. The country has long closed borders with Guyana, Brazil and French Guiana to contain the spread.