Mixed reaction to gov’t relaxing COVID-19 restrictions

Tourism officials hailed the government’s decision to relax the last vestiges of the mask-wearing and travel restrictions related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at midnight on Thursday in Barbados – but the medical community continued to urge caution.

Government announced the wearing of masks as a form of protection from the COVID-19 virus will only be mandatory on public transportation, in schools, in medical facilities such as hospitals, dental offices, clinics, or at nursing homes and day care institutions.

In addition, all entry requirements at the country’s ports of entry will be relaxed for passengers, whether they were vaccinated or not.

Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association (BHTA) chairman Renee Coppin was elated with the decision after she pleaded with government during the association’s quarterly meeting last Friday to remove the remaining restrictions because she feared they may make the island “uncompetitive” as a tourist destination.

“The BHTA is super pleased that updates have been made to the COVID-19 protocols,” she told VOB 92.9 FM. “We are confident that, as they have done throughout the management of this pandemic, our Ministry of Health would have made a careful assessment of all the factors to reach the decision that they have.

“For our industry, it sends a clear signal that Barbados is ready to welcome visitors with a return to the ease of entry that obtained prior to COVID-19, and of course, for all the warmth and hospitality for which we have always been known.

“We believe it is going to make us more competitive, as persons in our various source markets make their decisions as to where they are going to travel.”

Coppin said businesses in the tourism industry can breathe easier and focus their attention on delivering a vibrant experience for visitors to the island when they arrive during the winter tourist season.

“We are going to continue to pay attention in our businesses to health and safety, as we always have, and we are going to ensure that we maintain strict cleanliness and sanitisation standards and everything else we can to ensure a safe environment for our teams and our guests,” she said.

“We are now looking to enter our winter season about mid-November, when we expect to see an up-tick in bookings and arrivals, and we are hopeful that as (travellers) make their decisions now going into the season that we are going to see a return to a higher level of performance for the island.

“We are competing with a number of destinations across (the Caribbean) that have done somewhat similar things in terms of changing of (health and safety) protocols, so we are glad that we can ensure that our destination is again one of the most competitive in terms of those requirements.”

President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP), Dr Lynda Williams said nothing has changed in Barbados in the past few months.

“We still have a slow uptake of vaccines and boosters, meaning this has not changed much,” she said. “The elderly and the vulnerable are still being affected by severe disease and that’s due to COVID-19 being among them.

“The numbers presented for voluntary testing have been falling, and while many may just be doing home testing, this may indicate decreased numbers of symptomatic cases coming forward to be tested. There are also decreased numbers in home isolation.”

She added: “Most people travelling to our shores from our source countries have also been vaccinated and boosted, and the risks from travel, therefore, are being reduced, though these have not been eliminated.

“BAMP agrees, therefore, with the cautious approach being taken, reserving mask mandates for those institutions, where the fast spread of a highly infectious virus is possible, and in places where care is given to the elderly and the vulnerable, and on public transport and in educational settings.

“While a full removal is highly desired by some, let us not forget that this pandemic is not over, and the potential for new variants in the upcoming fall-winter season still exists, so while mandates have been removed, good common sense must prevail.”

Williams urged Barbadians to still use hand sanitising stations in businesses and public places, and mask wearing indoors and especially in temperature-controlled environments.

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