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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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Bahamas News

Brave presentation in defence of Bahamas’ financial services reputation by PM Davis

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By Sherrica Thompson

Staff Writer

 

#TheBahamas, October 1, 2022 – Prime Minister of the Bahamas Phillip ‘Brave’ Davis is again calling for equality in the financial services sector and for the United Nations to leverage its universal jurisdiction for greater oversight of global anti-money laundering de-risking and tax cooperation matters.

In addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, September 24, Prime Minister Davis said the Bahamas is one of the best-regulated countries in the world, yet it has been under attack by international bodies and placed on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) blacklist while transgressions in the developed world are ignored.

He questioned why this was the case and highlighted some disparities in the financial sector.

“Why is it that European states that operate frameworks akin to that of high-risk or blacklisted countries, are not even eligible for inclusion on these lists? Why are all the countries targeted – all of them – small and vulnerable, and former colonies of European states? We find it astounding that the $2-$3 trillion dollars which is estimated to be laundered each year through the developed countries, are never flagged as causes for concern,” articulated Phillip Davis, addressing the 77th session in New York.

Prime Minister Davis further noted that there are elements of racism in the decision-making when it comes to regulating black-governed countries in the financial services sector. He also declared that black-governed countries matter as well.

And yet my country, which is widely recognized as one of the best-regulated countries in the world, and other countries like The Bahamas, are singled-out for such reputational attacks? The robust regulatory regimes of our Central Bank, Securities Commission, and Insurance Commission, are chastised on minor details of technical process, while much bigger transgressions in the developed world are ignored.

The evidence is mounting, that the considerations behind these decisions have less to do with compliance, and more to do with darker issues of pre-judged, discriminatory perceptions. Black-governed countries also matter.”

 Davis also highlighted the need for reforms that apply to all in the global financial system.

“Mr. President: We support the call for reforms in the global financial system to make it more relevant to the needs of today. But those reforms need ambition. They need to go beyond the incremental. And they need to apply to all. For example, the community of international financial institutions are in a position to forgive the debt incurred by the economic shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. They should do so.”

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Caribbean News

Hurricane Ian impact on Cayman Islands

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By Sherrica Thompson

Staff Writer

 

#Cayman, October 1, 2022 – The Cayman Islands experienced fierce winds and high seas from Hurricane Ian on Monday, as the storm passed offshore, causing little lasting damage.

Some areas on the island experienced flooding as low-lying condo complexes and some residential back roads were inundated with water. Almost 4,000 homes were without power on Monday; however, most had electricity restored by the evening.

There were also no reports of any injuries, deaths, or serious structural damage.  The country started its restoration process on Monday afternoon, clearing debris from the roads, surveying the damage and providing support to residents where needed.

In a statement on Monday afternoon, Premier of the Cayman Islands Wayne Panton said he was pleased with how residents handled the situation.

“While we have been very fortunate to have been spared the worst of a potentially very serious storm, I’m extremely pleased to have seen the efforts made by the Caymanian public to prepare for ‘the worst, while praying for the best. In this situation, this is simply the safest, most strategic thing to do,” the Premier said

Despite the all-clear being issued on Monday evening, the Ministry of Education announced that government schools will remain closed to students until Wednesday, 28 September.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, authorities have declared emergencies in six areas, with forecasters warning of storm surges on the coast along with flash floods and mudslides.

Tens of thousands of people were told to leave their homes and seek shelter. Cuba could see up to 12 inches of rain from Hurricane Ian.

Hurricane Ian dramatically intensified and is blamed for at least two dozen deaths in Florida; where the storm struck with near category five force winds and a near 20 foot storm surge.

Over 700 rescue operations were activated in Florida in the aftermath of the storm, which is still wreaking havoc in the U.S.

 

Cayman photo credit:  RC Cord

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Caribbean News

Soca Boss honoured as Trinidad & Tobago marks 50 Years

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By Sherrica Thompson

Staff Writer

 

#Trinidad&Tobago, October 1, 2022 – Machel Montano, the Soca Boss, was on Saturday, September 24, awarded the Hummingbird Gold National Award as Trinidad and Tobago celebrated its 46th anniversary of becoming a republic.

The Hummingbird medal is awarded for loyal and devoted service beneficial to the state in any field or acts of conspicuous gallantry or other outstanding humane action.

Montano, who is celebrating 40 years in soca music, expressed his gratitude for the award in a statement on his social media pages.

The Soca Monarch expressed gratitude to his family, who he said have always supported him throughout his journey.

“I am humbled and wish to dedicate this honor to my family, my parents, Elizabeth and Winston Montano, who set me on this path and without whom I would not stand proud here in this moment. Their love, guidance and support throughout the years have absolutely been my foundation,” Montano said.

Adding that: “My brother Marcus for igniting my musical spark and always being there up to this day, someone I can call on anytime for any task. My wife, my children, in-laws, sister-in-law, nieces, aunts, cousins and loved ones who have all steered and cheered me on.”

He also expressed heartfelt gratitude to his musical family, friends and fans.

“Over my 40-year journey in music my family has grown into a Famalay…sprawling all over the globe, all my musical friends; writers, producers, musicians, managers, dancers, collaborators, creators, techs, teachers, assistants, dedicated staff, friends and FANS 🙌… everyone who has ever contributed to anything I’ve done, it’s always been fun and I thank you all,” he said.

Montano said he hopes his award will inspire other entertainers and encourage them to keep working hard and aspiring.

Congratulations to the Soca Monarch and Boss on this major milestone.

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