Opposition’s Response to PACT Government Border Opening Press Briefing
On behalf of the Opposition, I thank the Government for finally addressing the country on their plans regarding re-opening our borders to tourism. It has been some two months since PACT took office, and it should not have required a press conference by the Opposition to prompt them to address the country on this critical issue.
When we were in Government, and now as Opposition, we have consistently said that the key to re-opening the borders safely is to get between 75% – 80% of our people vaccinated. So, we do not disagree with the current Government on this point.
However, we believe that we are sufficiently close to getting 75% of our people fully vaccinated that the Government can and indeed should announce a firm re-opening date. We remain of the view that the date should be September 1. This will give businesses a date to gear up to welcome tourists back and will also spur unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated. Without a firm re-opening date by September, we will likely lose the winter season as potential visitors will seek alternative destinations for their holidays. Indeed, there are already indications that it is happening.
As everyone will know from our track record in Government, we are deeply conscious about the importance of re-opening the borders safely, and in all our decisions, we put lives before livelihoods and people above profits. But we firmly believe that with a concerted effort, we can get the number of vaccinated residents up to 75%, which is certainly achievable by September 1. Even using the revised population estimate of 71,100 people. Reaching these numbers of vaccinated residents allows us to safely re-open and enable visitors who have been vaccinated to enter without the need to quarantine.
We also part ways with the Government on the proposed 5-day quarantine for those who are vaccinated BEFORE we have succeeded in vaccinating at least 75% of our population. We believe this is downright dangerous as we have seen travellers test positive for Covid-19 after 15 or longer days in quarantine. When in Government, we considered this as an option and ruled it out because we did not believe it prudent or safe until we had sufficient numbers of people vaccinated. I hope the Government understands the risk.
Further, a 5-day quarantine period will do nothing to bring tourists here. Tourists are not going to want to spend half of their 10-day vacation in quarantine.
On the other hand, a reduced quarantine of 5 days will encourage residents to travel over the summer, thus further injuring local businesses relying on local spending to remain open. We believe that staycations, dinners, lunches and nights-out by residents will be severely affected by the reduced quarantine period.
We are relieved that the Government has announced that the pension holiday and the tourism stipend will be continuing. However, we do not understand how the Minister of Tourism can agree with us that (a) the stipends are needed and (b) that cruise tourism is unlikely to resume this year yet go on in the same breath to announce that he will cut the stipend payment to $750 per month in November. That is both illogical and heartless.
We remain of the view that the stipend should be increased to $2000 monthly through the rest of this year. We must ensure that our people who work in Tourism and who remain unemployed or under-employed, and whose pension funds monies have long since been exhausted continue to have the ability to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads and food on the table for their families. The Government should have, as we had planned to, convened Finance Committee in early May and sought additional funding to extend and increase the necessary Covid-19 relief programmes. They deliberately chose not to do so. They can still do so next month and can be assured of our support. We must continue to help our people through this crisis.
I again thank the Government for the information provided to the country yesterday, but I urge them to provide details sooner rather than later on their re-opening plans for tourism. Our people who rely on tourism need certainty on this point. And the country needs certainty.