‘Don’t close down the borders,’ tourism stakeholders urge

Pleading on behalf of more than 350,000 Jamaicans who directly make a living through tourism-related businesses, the thousands of families and communities who benefit indirectly, and citing possible irreversible long-term damage to the country’s economy in general, the industry stakeholders throughout Jamaica’s resort areas are cautioning against another lockdown of the nation’s borders.

Tourism is a major earner for Jamaica.

The calls also reflect the official advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has urged countries to adopt localised strategies as opposed to resorting to national lockdowns.

“Lockdowns are not something that WHO recommended, but they needed to be used in a number of countries because the outbreaks were growing so quickly,” the organisation’s Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said. “But we’re hopeful countries will not need national lockdowns again”.

Follow protocols

Instead, Van Kerkhove urged countries to use the tools available to adopt a “tailored, specific, localised” approach to contain new clusters of infections.”

In a series of interviews recently, the stakeholders say that while they understand the obvious health and safety concerns resulting from the recent spike in the number of coronavirus cases, there also has to be a balance where the economy and the “country’s basic survival” are taken into consideration.

“This would undoubtedly be a massive blow not only to tourism but also the country’s economy on a whole. We at JCAL have never been known for excesses and we are not about to start now. What I can tell you, however, is that any decision to close down the borders would cause a lot of hurt …a lot of pain… and a lot of damaged households right across the length and breadth of this country,” a very concerned Brian Thelwell, president of the Jamaica Co-operative Automobile and Limousine Tours Limited (JCAL), noted.

Brink of extinction

President of the Ocho Rios Craft Markets Association, Devon Mitchell, for his part, agreed. According to him, the past six months, especially during the period where the country’s borders were closed to international travel, craft traders were brought to “the brink of extinction” and “have never been this hard hit.”

“To be honest with you we are not prepared emotionally, mentally and financially to go through anything like that again…at least not anytime soon,” a passionate Mitchell, who is also the president of the Dunn’s River Craft Association, argued.

Return of cruise ships

Over at the neighbouring Fishing Village, also in Ocho Rios, where restauranteurs rely heavily on the tourist business for survival, the cries are even louder for the authorities not to close down the borders again. Rather, the call is to place more emphasis on enforcing the laws and to impose even harsher penalties on those who continue to breach and flaunt health and safety guidelines.

“Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has been telling us…literally urging countries…not to re-impose national lockdowns in an attempt to bring COVID-19 under control…and if I am quoting correctly…not even due to social and economic repercussions,” explained Marcus King, a popular restaurant owner at the facility.

King said the absence of the cruise ships and the “slow trickle” of guest from the hotels have been very hard on business owners, many of whom have been hard-pressed to pay rent and maintenance at the fishing beach location.

“We are more looking forward to the return of the cruise ships and an increase in stopover arrivals as opposed to any talk of a reclosing of the borders,” King added.