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Vaccine Mandate hits like a HURRICANE; Cancellations crush September prospects

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#TurksandCaicos, September 9, 2021 – The Minister of Health is finding it difficult to believe that cancellations are as high as residents are claiming.  In a tone deaf presentation the minister pointed to visitor arrival numbers at the airport, the usual September slow down, hurricane hits and nefarious attempts at fearmongering as the basis for his lack of faith on the figures.

“What I am saying is that when you compare to where we usually were, to where we are now, and again we are still in COVID and we’re doing better, and I am also saying that (hey) safety first, and I’m also saying that cancellations happen. Because, usually around September 6 or 8 in the Turks and Caicos, we usually get a big hurricane. So if a hurricane hit the Turks and Caicos Islands right now – God forbid, knock on wood – they would have the same level of cancellations or more.  Now this was a decision, one is man-made, one is natural but it is the same result,” said Hon Jamell Robinson, TCI Minister of Health.

The minister was speaking at a Wednesday night press conference where among other things, he got on the defence about claims of cancellations and estimations on losses suffered due to a new travel entry requirement.  Visitors, over the age of 16, are now required to be fully vaccinated with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, in order to be green-lighted for travel to the Turks and Caicos.  Cancellations are estimated to be in the tens of thousands inclusive of resorts, airlines, tours and excursions, boutique activities and concierge services.

The Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association reports 13,000 cancellations from September to mid-November for 12 of its largest member properties including the Hartling Group, Grace Bay Resorts and Beaches Turks and Caicos.  One member, said Stacy Cox, TCHTA Executive Director, reported 5k cancelled vacations.

Similar reports came from smaller business operators which suffered the trickle-down effect of the decision announced on August 12, for activation a mere three weeks later.

“It isn’t a case where anyone is discounting what may have happened in terms of their totality of their cancellations, yes, but it’s not as if them being in the business long term, they haven’t seen these types of scenarios where they have this level of passengers coming into the country because this is traditionally the time, most properties do their renovations,” Minister Robinson on Wednesday.

The minister’s comments were most suited to the larger tourism stakeholders and it demonstrated what the small and micro companies have been vocalizing since the announcement, which came on his debut as the new health minister; that he is out of touch with the wider marketplace and smaller operations.

“I have people cancelling and no one consulted the small businesses.  I have lost eight jobs between September and October; that’s $20,000 gone.  I have bills to pay, rent to pay and my landlord is not understanding that what happened is outside of my control.  No one engaged the small business person and I wish they had.”

A business owner in North Caicos offered that the activation of the new policy was so sudden that even “if guests who had bookings in September wanted to get vaccinated, they would hardly have had the opportunity to do so.  It was not thought out, it was just too sudden.”

Another entrepreneur offered the decision may have been more “appreciated if it were 90 days off.”

Several were infuriated that the consultation on the decision was so narrow; banks which “may have to extend me some late payment courtesies because I lost all of my villa reservations informed me they were not asked to consider negative repercussions for borrowers.  It was a big blow.”

The Minister said his visit to the airport on September 4, which was after the new vaccine mandate policy took effect, there were 1,274 passengers on Saturday.  The figure topped the best daily total in September 2019, when a slightly lesser 1,131 guests were recorded.

“The highest passenger arrivals for any day during September (2019) was 1131;so despite all the fearmongering, coming from certain quarters within the TCI, we are simply experiencing a pre-Covid slow season.  No more, no less.”

However, records reflect that from September 3- October 15, 2019, Beaches Resort, which accounts for 70 per cent of visitor arrivals, was closed therefore passengers were expectantly less in number.

This year, Beaches Resort is opened with no plans to shut for the season.

In fact, we found that in 2018, while Beaches Resort remained open, 12 other major properties including Gansevoort, Point Grace, Meridian Club and Ocean Clubs were closed.

In September 2017, Turks and Caicos was scarred and debilitated by hurricanes Irma and Maria and in 2020, the pandemic and a closed Beaches Resort plunged arrival numbers and helped the TCI sink into an economic depression.

These factors are very likely among the reasons the year 2021 was proving to truthfully be a banner year for many.

With keen interest in Turks and Caicos vacations, visitors were flocking to the destination in almost pre-pandemic fashion. Pent up demand, low infection numbers, high vaccine uptake, proximity to the U.S. and the natural allure of the islands was drawing a healthy number of tourists.  With that interest came more cases of Covid-19.

The PNP Administration, in its fortnightly Cabinet Meeting came to the controversial decision after reviewing a six week period where 68 percent of infections or 90 of 133 people with coronavirus were tourists.

Tourists, including vacation home owners in the Turks and Caicos would have to be fully vaccinated once over the age of 16; returning residents who were vaccinated needed to prove they were fully vaccinated prior to departure from the islands and returning residents who were unvaccinated, had to provide a negative PCR or Antigen test in order to get approve through the TCI Assured portal.

Additionally, these residents are now required to quarantine with their entire household for seven days, a test is required on day five of the return.

The Cabinet also agreed to shorten the time for negative tests, from five days to three days; this is mandatory for everyone except vaccinated returning residents.

“This actually provides us with some breathing room, to be able to get the cases down as well as reposition our brand because it is not as if we haven’t done it in the past,” explained Minister Robinson who added, the high vaccination rate and vaccine only tourist policy are great selling points which can increase interest in the destination.

Though pressured to do so, the Minister was reticent about fingering the entity or entities he believes is guilty of “fear mongering.”

There was no information from the Minister on what Government is doing to now track if there are new bookings as a result of the vaccine mandate.

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Caribbean News

CARICOM African Leaders Identify Areas of Co-Operation at Historic First Summit

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CARICOM, September 13, 2021 – Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Africa have committed to strengthen collaboration and unity and to foster increased trade, investment and people-to-people engagement between the two regions.

The commitment was given during the historic First CARICOM-Africa Summit hosted by Kenya and held virtually on 7 September 2021.  His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, Chair of the Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) presided over the Summit which was attended by Heads of State and Government as well as Heads of Regional Integration Secretariats and Institutions of CARICOM and Africa.

Speakers at the Summit noted its historic nature and that African and Caribbean cultural and political ties run deep based on a shared history, culture, as well as a sense of a common identity.  They cited common historical experiences which inspired the Pan-African Movement championed by the Africans and the diaspora and which established the foundations of a rich and vibrant African-Caribbean relationship. The Leaders expressed the view that they were obligated to build on that vision. It was also noted that this First Summit was being held during the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent.

Key areas of possible co-operation and collaboration were identified by both parties. In his statement during the opening session, Honourable Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Chair of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM proposed that September 7th be celebrated as “Africa-CARICOM Day” with a Summit held annually on that date. He also proposed the creation of a Forum of African and Caribbean Territories and States (FACTS), the codifying of a Founding Charter and a Memorandum of Operation of the Forum, a multi-lateral air services agreement, and an investment protection and a double taxation agreement between African and CARICOM states.

President Kenyatta, in his statement at the Opening cited the blue economy, climate change, health and Covid-19, debt sustainability and technology as areas on which the Regions could work together.

In the discussions, the Leaders stressed the importance of exploiting the Blue Economy to boost growth and development. They also committed to foster increased trade and investment through specific agreements and the enhancement of transportation links between the two regions. This could include the removal of the requirement for visas by nationals of CARICOM and African nations.

The Leaders indicated support for the establishment of a CARICOM/Africa public-private partnership dedicated to mobilizing resources and deploying them in critical cutting-edge projects including renewable energy, the creative industries and digital technology. They called for the establishment of a joint CARICOM/AU electronic mass media platform or mechanism to facilitate the flow of news, information and artistic programming between CARICOM and Africa. On the institutional front, they proposed the establishment of an African-Caribbean Forum and the drafting of an Africa-Caribbean Charter and memorandum of understanding to underpin the relationship.

The Heads of State and Government expressed concern about the mutation and spread of the Covid-19 Virus and its effects on the health of the people as well as on the health infrastructure. In that regard, they called for increased access to vaccines and for the building of manufacturing capacity to produce vaccines in Africa and CARICOM enabled by a waiver of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines. The contribution of the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) in making vaccines available to CARICOM was lauded.

The existential threat posed by climate change was acknowledged and there was agreement on the need for the global community to act towards curtailing greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. They supported a joint approach to the negotiations at COP26 to be held in the United Kingdom in November.

There was strong support for multilateralism and the strengthening and reform of multilateral institutions to become more inclusive to reflect the post-colonial world. The Leaders reiterated their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. While welcoming the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, they emphasised the need for debt relief.

They also called for an end to the illegal and unjust economic embargo against Cuba and to the sanctions against Zimbabwe.

The Heads of State and Government agreed to participate fully in the High Level meeting of the UN General Assembly later this month to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, and to jointly use that event to advance the claim for reparations within the processes of the United Nations.

The Summit ended with a mandate for the institutionalisation of co-operation between the CARICOM Secretariat and the African Union Commission.

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Bahamas News

Commander Defence Force attends UK-Second Caribbean Chiefs of Defence Conference, Antigua

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#Bahamas, September 13, 2021 – In keeping with the Global Security Collaborative Framework and Commander Defence Force, Commodore Dr. Raymond King’s strategic intent in strengthening joint relationships with its regional and international partnerships, Commodore King attended the UK- Chief of Defence Staff (CHoDs’) in Antigua from 1- 3 September, 2021 to share best practices and to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Accompanied by his Aide, Sub Lieutenant Delroy Dennis, the sessions also included General Sir Nick Carter; Gen Chief of Defence Staff, United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland; Major General C S Collins, General Officer Commanding 1st UK Division; Lieutenant Colonel Simon Westlake Royal Marines United Kingdom’s Defence Attaché to the Caribbean; and Commander Brian Trim MBE RN Commander task Group.

Also in attendance were countries with various Chiefs of Defence Staff, in particular; Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and defence and security partners across the region, who took part virtually, and shared their views on global security and joint partnerships. They all agreed on several initiatives with training and education designed to improve collective capacity to deal with the diverse security challenges that confront the region.

The inaugural conference convened virtually in November 2020, with each of the regional Chiefs of Defence. This second conference focused on building on the success of the virtual event in strengthening the UK-Caribbean relationships, and developing concepts for UK engagement with its Caribbean partners on issues of mutual interest.

The three-day conference commenced with an ice-breaker reception and concert at Blizzard Camp, hosted by Antigua and Barbuda (ATG) – Chief of Defence Staff Colonel Telbert Benjamin, and joined by the Governor General, Sir Rodney Williams. The core conference which took place on September 2nd, began with an opening ceremony, supported by the Prime Minister of ATG, Sir Gaston Browne.

In the first core session, UK- Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland General Sir Nick Carter set out the UK perspective on the strategic context, informed by the recently concluded Integrated Review (IR) and Defence Command Plan (DCP). The three individual sessions covered issues of serious organized crime threats; regional initiatives and the implications for UK Defence engagement; and natural threats.

The UK- CDS expressed his ambition to use the conference as a vehicle for institutional capacity building, military capability development, training and education, doctrine, and concepts. These are ways to maximize collective security development with focused UK engagement while better constructing an approach that matches the region’s aspirations and requirements.

The final session of the three-day conference was held aboard HMS MEDWAY, River Class Offshore Patrol Vessel built on the Clyde. This permanent Caribbean patrol ship was deployed to the Caribbean to support disaster relief and conduct counter-trafficking operations as an alternative setting for a maritime security focused discussion. It served as a setting to discuss regional maritime security, which included talks around preparedness for Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response (HADR), and UK involvement in regional partnerships.

Photo Captions: 

Header: Participants at the UK- second Caribbean Chief of Defence Staff (CHoDs’) in Antigua, 1- 3 September, 2021. 

1st insert: Commodore Raymond King, the Commander Defence Force, presenting his country’s brief on board HMS MEDWAY, during the second Caribbean Chiefs of Defence Staff conference in Antigua. 

2nd insert: Commodore Raymond King, Commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force; Brigadier General Steven Andrew Ortega, Commander Belize Defence Force; Lieutenant General Rocky R Meade, Chief of Defence Staff, Jamaica Defence Force; Brigadier Godfrey Bess Chief of Staff, Guyana Defence Force; Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel Chief of Defence Staff, Trinidad and Tobago Defence Forces: In the front row; Colonel Telbert Benjamin, Commander of Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force and General Sir Nick Carter, General Chief of Defence Staff, United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland.

3rd insert: Commodore Raymond King, the Commander Royal Bahamas Defence Force; Brigadier General Steven Andrew Ortega, Commander Belize Defence Force; General de Brigada Angel A Camacho Ubiera Inspector General of the Dominican Republic Army; Antigua and Barbuda – Colonel Telbert Benjamin, Commander of Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force; Major General C S Collins, General Officer Commanding 1st UK Division; Lieutenant General Rocky R Meade, Chief of Defence Staff, Jamaica Defence Force; Brigadier Godfrey Bess Chief of Staff, Guyana Defence Force; Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel Chief of Defence Staff, Trinidad and Tobago Defence Forces Trinidad and Tobago; and Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel Chief of Defence Staff, Trinidad and Tobago Defence Forces.

(Photos courtesy Mr. Wayne Mariette)

 

 (For further information please contact the RBDF Public Relations Department or visit our website: www.rbdf.gov.bs, follow us on FacebookTwitter and view our Youtube channel) 

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Bahamas News

Caribbean Wellness Day 2021

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#Caribbean, September 13, 2021 – Health, in every facet, is sought-after, at great expense, by all members of the global community. Though the success of our endeavours in health varies from region to region, it must be emphasised that in our Region, a healthy Caribbean is always the goal for which we strive.

Each year the Caribbean Region observes, Caribbean Wellness Day since it was established at the 2007 landmark summit, ‘Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases.’

This year’s commemoration focuses on equitable access to health; an all of society approach to health and well-being, and building healthy communities under the theme, “Power Through Collective Action: In it Together, Building Healthy Communities.”

As health care systems are being taxed by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is even more important now to advocate for equitable access to health. Too many of our Caribbean citizens face harsh realities, because of inequities in access – this should not be. Caribbean Wellness Day is the most opportune time for the members of our Caribbean community to ensure that the health of our people is indeed a priority through legislative change, health in all policies and all of society action.

Equitable access to health care in the Caribbean is one of CARPHA’s points of focus as can be seen through our work to ensure equitable access to PPE, equipment, supplies and vaccines through the COVAX facility, a mechanism whose primary function is to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and donations notably the US Government donation of 5.5 million doses of Pfizer BioNTech.

Without the power of voices in chorus, like with the COVAX facility; the Caribbean Cooperation in Health (CCH) and others – many more would be disadvantaged and unserved. Achieving health for all in the Caribbean also means attaining and sustaining healthy environments.

The built environment, which provides for sidewalks, bike lanes, community parks and green spaces, can influence lifestyles, body weight, and improve mental health. As these necessary frameworks are made reality and we avail ourselves of them, we exercise Power through Collective Action showing that we are truly in it together, Building Healthy Communities.

As we speak about the environment, we must mention the effects of climate change. The inaction in the past has set the world on a course of environmental destruction. We need to act now; it is the only way that we can protect the generations to come from even worse realities than those we face today.

As we seek to mitigate the damage done due to inaction on the recommended major climate change interventions, we need to address other pertinent issues. Vector-borne diseases remain a challenge in many Caribbean territories, and unlike the bleak outlook that is presented on climate change, simple adjustments in our behaviour can make the world of difference.

By eradicating breeding grounds of mosquitoes in our immediate environment and communities, we minimize the spread of many vector-borne diseases. Advocacy in health should be the standard operation of every Region, State, and organisation. Sustaining Health and well-being is one of the very few universal desires.

Regardless of creed, culture, or any other divisive line – all organised bodies have a responsibility to promote health. Further to this, we need to take the time to look after ourselves and our families and communities.

Simple actions – increasing our intake of local produce, reading labels of processed foods to make informed decisions, scheduling regular exercise – these actions will drastically improve the health and quality of life of our people.

Working together to this end, will lead to healthier minds, healthier bodies, and a Caribbean that exudes wellness.

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