Safety first, says Symmonds
Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds said today that the Grantley Adams International Airport remains closed to commercial traffic until June 30, however, there is no guarantee airlines will resume flying to Barbados at that time.
The minister said safety is critical in determining when flights will be allowed to resume and the decision will be “data driven”. He said, too, that protocols would have to be implemented before travel can resume.
A statement issued through Barbados Government Information Service said Symmonds was speaking during his promised bi-monthly media briefing on the tourism sector, via a Zoom press conference.
“I cannot give you a date on which the airlines will be returning. We have taken a position that the airport remains closed to commercial traffic until the 30th of next month. If the happy circumstances arise that you have significant improvements, and we can feel confident that it is easy to reopen, then that decision will be taken, but until such time we are going to be very guarded on this matter, and go as fast as the data and the circumstances allow us to feel comfortable.
“Going about it phase by phase and step by step gives us an opportunity to protect our people while giving us an opportunity to develop some economic activity which is absolutely critical to the same people as well,” Symmonds said.
Commercial traffic into the island came to a halt from mid-March this year as a result of the novel coronavirus( COVID-19) pandemic. However, the Minister said safety was a priority for Barbados, and any decision taken to reopen the sector will “not be date driven, but rather data driven”.
“I want to make it clear that we have not settled yet on any definitive course of action, not just in Barbados, but across the Caribbean and also with the airlines,” he said, disclosing that Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley and Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet, both chaired a “useful meeting” with all the airlines that service the region last week.
“The airlines understand what we are trying to achieve. . . . Their interest as well is safety. The take away from that meeting is that there is no competitive advantage that anybody has over the other in terms of being safe.
“We all want the highest degree of safety that we can have. Nobody feels comfortable in reopening until you have been able to secure, first of all, the well-being of the people in your country and the workers and, secondly, the visitors to the island,” he stated.
Symmonds said regional protocols were also being examined. These include possibly implementing a COVID-19 rapid test, which could be conducted on departure from the source market, on arrival to Barbados, or at both points, if cost allows.
“This is a discussion that is being had around the region. In the absence of that, we are going to have to rely on the airlines being very robust partners, in the context of that which they do, to make sure there is a contaminant free corridor between, for example, when you leave JFK and when you arrive in Barbados,” he explained.
The Minister said temperature testing and prior knowledge of travel history would be required. Protocols were also needed for the appropriate levels of quarantine space for people who may eventually test positive.
According to the statement, Symmonds said domestic protocols also needed to be settled because while there was a common understanding at the regional level, each country would have to implement standards.
“Bottom line is, the perfect scenario would be to have a vaccine, . . . but that is several months away . . . In the meantime, life has to go on and we will have to exist with this threat we call COVID-19, until this time comes. So, therefore our [approach] has to be about managing the risk, minimising the risk and making sure that we can still do business, while we protect people as best as humanly possible,” he said. (BGIS)
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