Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Opposition, Gov’t haggle over COVID risk on tourism corridor

Published:Wednesday | June 10, 2020 | 1:06 PMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer

CHAIRMAN OF the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament, Dr Wykeham McNeill, has taken issue with portions of the COVID-19 protocols published by the Ministry of Health that are to govern the tourism sector and has warned against giving false impressions about the safety of the new operating environment.

The Government has established a COVID-19 Resilient Corridor, which includes the coastline from Negril to Port Antonio, as the country embarks on a phased reopening of the tourism sector.

The corridor is being established under Phase 1, which runs from June 15 to June 30, when international travellers will be allowed to enter the island.

During this phase, only businesses within the corridor whose staff have undergone training, and whose operations have been assessed and cleared for opening by the Tourism Product Development Company will be permitted to operate.

The ministry also requires that all ground transportation for tourists be arranged by a business that has been cleared to open. Unlicensed transportation will not be allowed.

McNeill said that he had examined the protocols surrounding the sector and expressed concern about its use to pitch Jamaica as a safe haven from the coronavirus.

But Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health & Wellness, said that public-health workers and the policymakers never intended to give the impression that tourists coming into the island could expect a risk-free environment.

“We are not providing guarantees to anyone and we have made that abundantly clear that we are in an epidemic and the disease is in Jamaica, so there is no way – unless we eradicate the disease from Jamaica – we could be giving any certification that someone is going to be risk-free,” Bryan said.

The permanent secretary told the PAAC that his ministry was not responsible for the marketing of Jamaica as a tourist destination and, therefore, was unable to control the messaging to prospective visitors.

However, McNeill told the permanent secretary that the ministry had a duty of care, especially in a pandemic.

But Bryan insisted that Cabinet was the body charged with the power to make the final decision on policy.