Rapid tests hold hope for tourism


Rapid tests hold hope for tourism

Friday, September 11, 2020

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News from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) that the country's economy declined by 18 per cent for the April to June quarter — four percentage points more than it had previously projected — is cause for grave concern.

This type of impact will certainly create more problems for our economy. And it's going to be tough pulling ourselves out of this hole, especially given that other major economies around the world are in recession.

Against that background, we are heartened by the Government's intention to diversify sources of foreign exchange income and news from Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke that a significant number of jobs will become available by exploring technology-driven and logistics opportunities. The sooner the country can get that going, the better.

At the same time, the Administration should not take its eye off tourism; for, as we have pointed out before, we are seeing signs that people are willing to travel.

It is worth repeating that Jamaica has been welcoming tourists, many of whom have expressed satisfaction with extensive COVID-19 safety protocols implemented, at great cost, in the sector.

The people who make a living from tourism — craft vendors, bus drivers, et al — have been very vocal in letting the country know that the resilient corridors created to protect Jamaicans and visitors from COVID-19 infection are working.

Given that reality, the Government has an obligation to ensure that the health and safety protocols facilitate travel to the island.

We acknowledge the benefit of non-residents taking a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to show that they are not infected prior to arrival. However, as we have pointed out before, the test is expensive, especially when done by private companies. The prices we have seen range from US$50 to US$200.

These costs are deterring many people from visiting destinations that require the test, creating a dilemma for governments who have a responsibility to ensure public health but at the same time must prevent further slump in their economies.

We have, before, pointed to the use of the saliva-based laboratory diagnostic test designed by Yale University scientists as a more affordable method of testing and which costs about US$10.

One of the great benefits of science is that researchers never sit still, particularly in environments where countries are trying hard to prevent further economic hardship.

So, just over a week ago news emerged that the United States Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorisation to a COVID-19 test that takes 15 minutes and can be run without lab equipment.

The test, which costs US$5, is called BinaxNOW and is produced by health care company Abbott. We are told that it uses the same technology as a pregnancy test. Additionally, Abbott is reported to be launching an app that will sync with the test and give people who test COVID-19 negative a digital health pass that they can display on their phone.

We suggest that the local health authorities examine the feasibility of utilising this and other rapid tests with the aim of giving the more than 370,000 Jamaicans who make living directly and indirectly from tourism a chance to survive.

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