Reopening the Country - Part III
Freedom Speaks Column
As I have noted in the last two articles, neither can we keep our country in a perpetual lockdown or state of emergency as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic- nor is it healthy to live in fear of the disease. Once the lockdown is removed, the curfew lifted and the border reopened, there will be risk for the re-emergence of COVID-19 in Dominica. How do we manage those risks and what management tools should become routine over the next two years?
Clearly a "new normal" is likely to emerge, not only in Dominica, but across the globe, and this could remain that way until an effective vaccine or cure is obtained for the disease or until herd immunity is arrived at naturally. So far, we have noted that to live with and adequately manage the disease, there will be need for: ongoing testing for the disease and related protocols on contact tracing, isolation and treatment; adequate capacity for treating persons who may be infected with COVID-19 and experience severe symptoms; a sustained focus on proper hygiene; maintaining appropriately adjusted physical distancing protocols; and better nutrition including the consumption of immune boosting foods.
Another area of major adjustment will be travel across borders. Travel across borders continues to be an important component of modern life – for business, resettlement or recreation. As countries reopen for business, they will also be seeking to prevent the re-emergence of a second round of infections with a level of severity that will require them to again severely restrict social interactions. The first round of restriction proved to be costly in terms of economic activity and no country wants to go through that again. Travel across borders is the one mechanism that made it possible for the new coronavirus to spread across the world and hence it is only natural to expect countries to adjust travel protocols in an attempt to reduce the risk of the re-emergence of infections.
Various mechanisms may be deployed by different countries and these could include: requiring travellers to obtain infection-free certificates before traveling; testing travellers for infection on arrival in the destination country or looking for signs of infections; and quarantining individuals in the country of arrival before they are allowed to interact with host community. Airlines will have to contemplate putting in place social distancing restrictions or/and deploy other protection regimes for passengers while on board their planes. This will add to airline cost which will either be passed on to passengers or result in lower profitability for airlines. All these measures may prove to make travel more onerous. These requirements will likely decrease the demand for travel, and will result in a spate of business failures in the airline, accommodation and travel industries worldwide, but the impact will be especially detrimental to countries that depend heavily on tourism. To adjust, many businesses that utilize travel will reduce their demand for travel and substitute by increasing their utilization of communications technology platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet. But such platforms can't fully substitute for physical interaction and observations and this could impact the level of cross-border business that will ensue.
The tourism industry may be especially hard hit by the new travel protocols. For instance, a requirement for a tourist to spend 14 days in quarantine in the country of destination will curtail tourism demand given that the typical tourist seeks to spend one to two weeks in their vacation destination. Thus, tourism dependent destinations will have to be creative about how they allow visitors to enter their countries if the industry is to come back to life over the next year or two. Some countries may entertain allowing visitors to be quarantined at the property that they intended to stay at, allowing them to engage in restricted leisure activity during their quarantine period with appropriate health checks at intervals and appropriate protocol for staff interaction with guests. Even so, while such restrictions may not matter too much to some visitors, it is generally expected to result in lower demand of such services. These likely new travel protocols alongside the expected reduced demand due to the unfolding global recession sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, will likely spell disaster for Caribbean tourism. The countries that are highly dependent on tourism such as Barbados, Antigua and St. Lucia will suffer particularly badly. Dominica's tourism industry was already weak and much smaller than most other Caribbean nations, but it too will not escape the adverse impact on tourism industry!
Many citizens of Caribbean countries reside or study abroad and new arrangement will have to be made to facilitate their travel. A decision will have to be made about whether returning residents will be required to be quarantined in assigned properties or whether they will be required to quarantine themselves at home. Will such a requirement be in place for more than one year?
We will continue this discussion next week when we will focus on the use of communication technology.
Kent Vital Political Leader Dominica Freedom Party.