Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, says a combination of decisive leadership and swift action has largely spared the Caribbean from the direct onslaught of the coronavirus (COVID-9) pandemic in terms of transmissions and mortalities.
Mr. Bartlett, who was speaking to international tourism stakeholders via Zoom on May 25, said that even before the region had recorded its first case of the virus, the Caribbean Public Health Agency had upgraded the risk of COVID-19 disease transmission from low to “moderate to high”.
“Subsequently, Caribbean countries quickly introduced strict public health measures, including the closing of borders to international travel, social distancing rules, work-from-home solutions, curfews, and in some cases, lockdowns,” he noted.
He said the latest statistics indicate that several countries in the region “have already begun to turn the tide against COVID-19 with increased testing and more isolation, resulting in increasing numbers of recoveries”.
Data from Jamaica as at Monday evening show that a total of 10,570 samples had been tested, with 9,985 of them being negative, 556 were positive, and 29 results pending. Of the 556 positive cases, 238 patients have recovered.
Minister Bartlett said that Trinidad and Tobago, with its last recovery, is now among eight Caribbean countries that have brought active cases of COVID-19 to zero.
“The other seven members of the Caribbean’s elite coronavirus-free club are St Kitts, Dominica, Montserrat, Anguilla, Belize, St Lucia, and St. Barts,” he noted.
Mr. Bartlett said that while the emerging consensus is that COVID-19 will pass, and some countries in the region are already making plans to reopen businesses and borders, the economic impact of the pandemic on tourism is expected to last much longer.
“This is largely due to reduced consumer confidence and the likelihood of longer restrictions on the international movement of people,” he said, noting that globally, the pandemic will likely result in a contraction of the tourism sector by 20 or 30 per cent in 2020.
“The risks and shocks associated with the prolonged downturn in international tourism are likely to be disproportionately higher for the Caribbean, which is the most tourism-dependent region in the world.
“In the region, tourism accounts for between 11 and 19 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and between 34 and 48 per cent of total GDP in The Bahamas, Barbados, and Jamaica,” he noted.
Tourism flows, the Minister added, are also responsible for similarly large shares of direct and overall national employment, with all three countries ranking in the top 20 globally on both measures.