COVID-ravaged US warns citizens against travel to JamaicaWednesday, September 08, 2021
BY ANDREW LAIDLEY
JAMAICA'S fragile tourism recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic-induced shutdown last year could take a further hit if Americans heed the warnings of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Yesterday the CDC raised its travel advisory to “Level 4: Very High” for Jamaica, Sri Lanka and Brunei, signalling to Americans to avoid travel to these destinations. It also said if travel cannot be avoided, US residents should make sure they are fully vaccinated before travel. That warning comes just weeks after Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica's tourism minister, welcomed the one millionth tourist to Jamaica since the reopening of the sector last year June. Despite rising cases in Jamaica, tourism interests have often pointed out that the incidence of COVID-19 disease among visitors to the island was around 1 per cent. Tourists visiting Jamaica have to follow strict protocols.
Bartlett, in reacting to the latest CDC advisory, was his usual optimistic self.
“Jamaica's product remains strong and our attractiveness as a destination is still intact. We have not seen yet any deviation from our projected patterns for the fall and winter, and we continue to drive the marketing arrangements that will enable a minimum, if any, fallout from this designation,” he replied in response to queries from the Jamaica Observer. He indicated that he will lead a marketing delegation at the end of this month to the US and Canada to secure arrivals in the upcoming tourism seasons.
“The repeat business to Jamaica continues to be over 42 per cent. We are assuring our visitors that all the steps are being taken to ensure their continued safety and security, and that they will continue to enjoy the rich Jamaican experiences that they have always had,” he added while pointing out that “Jamaica's tourism workers are being vaccinated at a very high level. In fact, perhaps you want to say that the rate of vaccination of the Jamaican workers is twice that of the country, and we continue to drive towards full vaccination of all the workers in the industry and we have the highest tradition in compliance with the protocols.
“We, as a destination, continue to manage this pandemic which has brought varying levels of uncertainty and new strains which are even more deadly than the rest. Jamaica has, however, developed an enviable strategy which has enabled us to have a high record of negativity in terms of the viral tests that have been conducted on visitors into the resilient corridor. Indeed, our safety standards and protocols are highly celebrated worldwide and have enabled us to achieve over 1 million visitors in the year and a half since we opened our borders”, he told the Business Observer.
Clifton Reader, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, adding his voice said, “We are always disappointed when Jamaica is the subject of a travel advisory as this can deter travellers from coming to the country and negatively affect the livelihood of the thousands of workers and families that depend on our tourism industry. In this sector we have worked hard to stress health and safety protocols, and this has worked particularly well in developing a resilient corridor in which guests have repeatedly told us they feel safe.”
He outlined that in “the resilient corridor, the COVID-19 positivity rate is only 1.04 — far below the rest of the country — and ideally, we would like to see this replicated across the island. This is not impossible, and it is our hope that with the current aggressive vaccination drive; ramped-up education programme; and focus on health and safety protocols, social distancing, and mask-wearing, we can get there.” Reader said he's confident that Jamaica's positivity rate, number of positive cases and deaths will decrease sufficiently in the coming weeks to prompt an early reassessment by the CDC, reclassification from Level 4 and a relaxation of the travel advisory.
The US advisory comes days after Jamaica narrowly escaped the United Kingdoms “red list” which warns UK citizens and residents against travel to red-list countries on holiday, or for any leisure purposes. After recognising that Jamaica was left off the red list, Bartlett outlined “We want to make the statement to the tourism community and all destinations that Jamaica is a safe, secure, and seamless destination.”
However, since the start of September, the country has recorded 4,693 new cases of the COVID-19 disease as the infectious and deadly Delta strain of the virus takes hold. That's an average of 670 new cases a day. Just yesterday, the health ministry reported 837 new cases were detected, pushing the overall case count since the start of the pandemic to 72,824. At the same time, 128 people have succumbed to the disease since the start of September, at a rate of 18 per day. A total of 1,646 people have died from the disease so far. To counter rising cases and deaths, health officials have been encouraging Jamaicans to get vaccinated and have held several blitz weekends to achieve a target of vaccinating at least 65 per cent of the population by the end of March 2022.
For its part, the US has been placed on a travel advisory list by the European Union, which warns its citizens against non-essential travel to the US as cases in that country continue to rise, especially in tourism destinations such as Florida. Yesterday — while the US was preparing its advisory against travel to Jamaica — Spain, Denmark, Italy and Norway were tightening restrictions for tourists travelling from the US in the wake of the European Union's removal of the country from its safe travel list last month as cases continue to rise stateside. The EU's August move signalled to member states that they should no longer ease restrictions on non-essential travel for people from the US amid the latest surge in coronavirus cases. The US was added initially to the EU's safe travel list in June. Most EU countries have since required people travelling from the US to show proof of vaccination or a negative result from a test taken 24 hours prior to departure.
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