Letters & Opinion

Making a healthy COVID difference in Caribbean Tourism is no piece-of-cake!

And election races can no longer be only about changing jockeys and horses…

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

WITH General Elections as far (or close) as anyone can imagine, Saint Lucians are being forced to watch and see normal things in a very different light – the new COVID light.

The two major parties are gearing-up for their next elections contest, which will be very different, campaigning already severely restricted by COVID protocols, conducted more online than on-the-ground.

Governments and ruling parties approaching national polls have been forced on the COVID back-foot, Opposition parties naturally relishing the reality that COVID is a frontline nightmare for administrations everywhere.

Opposition parties correctly argue that being in office also involves the responsibility of ruling parties to address all the nation’s problems — no matter how often or severe.

But the COVID effect on national treasuries is such that no opposition party should simply want to be in government today, unless with a national COVID reconstruction plan.

Governments and financial entities under their control are in deep doo-doo and forced to think and jump out of the box.

But the tourism jam loses its sweetness faster when all the country’s eggs are in the same basket, like here, where some 35,000 people are assessed to have been affected directly, in the past six months, by the absence of cruise ships and airlines, while banana exports to Europe are no more.

The National Insurance Corporation (NIC) is being chided for employing irregular but not illegal means of doing profitable business during COVID, from buying and selling bonds differently than usual, to lending money to foreign investors to buy valuable local lands abundantly cheaply, for re-sale at million-dollar prices.

A ‘foreign investor’ is also involved in the construction of a plantation-style ‘Great House’ at the base of Gros Piton in a way that can violate the rules governing The Pitons’ UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site (WHS) status, with construction continuing alongside protests.

The government is understandably anxious to reopen the tourism industry, but refusing to acknowledge that things cannot be the same again, like simply banking on reopening the two national air and sea ports to cruise ships and visitor airline flights.

The fortunate fact that nobody has officially died in Saint Lucia from COVID, no one is hospitalized and all who have tested are officially recovered, is being sorrily flagged as a healthy sign that visitors can start coming this way, including from the USA.

CARICOM governments have also shied away from widespread national testing, some politicians making health decisions successfully arguing that ‘The more we test, the more cases we’ll find…’

At the end of August 2020, only just over two percent of the population had been tested – but the politicians in charge of tourism had long declared the island officially COVID-free – even though only statistically.

The World Health Organization (WHO), Pan-American health Organization (PAHO) and the USA’s top COVID expert (Dr Anthony Faucci) all advise to ‘Follow the science’ in fighting the pandemic.

But medical science and good sense are both being increasingly and conveniently sidestepped whenever politically necessary, as President Trump has just so triumphantly has so demonstrated.

The US President now claims that after getting the best attention the most powerful man in America can ever get at US taxpayers’ expense, that his ‘recovery’ was ‘miraculous’ and ‘a blessing’ that was ‘probably designed by God’.

And now he’s promising to give a free vaccine, before November’s presidential elections, to every American – except that the vaccine he’s offering is not yet even approved for use, has not been tested enough and will not be ready for consideration for approval until 2021.

Meanwhile, COVID costs are increasing here while protocols are also being lowered, as the government comes to terms with the growing challenge of dwindling cash in the national coffers, forcing it to stop paying hotels and guests houses to host persons officially designated for quarantine.

A test here costs over US $100; persons now have to pay for quarantine at real hotel rates — US$95 per night (single occupancy), US $165 (double occupancy) and US $240 (triple occupancy); the original 14-day quarantine stay has been halved, with suspects now to spend the first seven days in paid quarantine and the other seven under lockdown at home.

Unlike Barbados, where the stay of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Medical Brigade was earlier this week extended for another six months, Saint Lucia’s was significantly and officially downsized months ago.

But while Caribbean governments are playing COVID Cat-and-Mouse with tourism, the industry’s main players are constantly inventing new ways to encourage visitors to start choosing the region again, with some making offers they can hardly refuse.

American Airlines is now offering to sell pre-flight COVID tests to passengers; and Sandals is offering new clients worldwide six months of free flight insurance, guarantees against cancellations — and payment for any COVID related hospitalization or similar emergency, up to US $100,000.

But while the governments and tourism bodies play catch-up, citizens without salaries or with pay halved, or nothing coming in, seem ready to break COVID protocols to protest, if necessary, thanks to Pandemic Fatigue.

And while nothing flows into the treasury, even those governments that can still pay salaries in-full, will soon fully feel the under-cutting power of the fiscal COVID overweight.

Opposition parties vying for office today have as many challenges as the governments on the COVID front, as the virus does not back parties or discriminate between government and opposition.

Parties preparing for elections everywhere must therefore also be able to convince voters they will make the necessary difference(s) and rearrange almost everything, within and around the new national norms forced by COVID-19 in 2020.

Caribbean election races in the COVID Age can therefore no longer be just fast rides to merely change jockeys and horses, but an enduring sprint to definitely change courses.

Otherwise, just ponder the possibilities…

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