Well aware of the effects the coronavirus pandemic could have on a region where travel and tourism are lifeline industries, Caribbean governments are moving swiftly to contain the spread, cancelling major sports events, closing schools and tertiary institutions, and stepping up surveillance at air and sea ports as they battle to minimize the economic fallout.
But even as they put heads together to find ways to keep the region functioning while containing the spread, some major carriers like American Airlines have already announced plans to suspend flights from this week to a number of Caribbean destinations, dealing a blow to the travel sector. Others say they are monitoring and are expected to follow suit if the number of confirmed cases in the region increases significantly.
So far, Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, The Bahamas and some of the smaller Eastern Caribbean nations have reported confirmed cases with Jamaica topping the list with 10.
The region is battling to remain open for business even as governments struggle to decide whether to prohibit cruise ships, some with more than 3,000 passengers onboard, to berth at regional ports, fearing they could spread the virus.
In response, cruise companies have vowed to step up onboard surveillance and to improve health facilities for passengers. Governments remain cautious as some passengers show no symptoms of being infected and could pass on the virus to people onshore. Authorities are still reluctant given the sheer volume of passengers.
As for major sporting events, the umbrella West Indies Cricket Board has cancelled the remaining rounds of the annual four-day tournament after the latest rounds of matches ended at the weekend. A number of football leagues around the region have done likewise and Bermuda, scheduled to host the annual Easter weekend Carifta games, has postponed the event for the while. Athletes from 27 countries were already lined up to participate.
And trying to keep an eye on the economic situation, regional finance ministers met by video conference over the weekend and promised to study ways of mitigating the impact of the pandemic.
“This has been a very long week with many twists and turns, but we feel we have come to the right decision for everyone involved in these games,” Donna Raynor, the chairwoman of the Carifta games organizing committee told reporters “We do not want to take the opportunity away from athletes that have trained hard for these games. This is a yearly event etched deep in the history of Bermuda and the Caribbean countries. “We are not trying to anticipate any dates as yet; we are waiting to see what happens with this COVID-19. Once it seems all is clear, we will sit down and work out a date in conjunction with the other Caribbean countries,” she said as health ministers meet almost daily by video conference to review the regional response and to update each other on the fightback process.
As the fight continues, some governments have also banned non-essential travel, while some ministries are now demanding that visitors come only with protective gear while conducting business with staffers.
The Bahamas, where 7 million people visited last year, said on Monday that people who traveled from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe in the past 20 days will be prevented from entering the tourist paradise. These join those from Italy, China, Iran, and South Korea on the banned and watchdog list.
Meanwhile, one set of crew from Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines and island hopper LIAT out of Antigua have been pulled out of flight duty after fetching a passenger with a confirmed case. In the case of Caribbean Airlines, the passenger died a few days after landing in Guyana.