Relief and caution

Relief and caution

Workers welcome planned reopening of tourism sector, say everyone must observe safety protocols

Observer staff reporter

Thursday, June 04, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — There is strong support among tourism-dependent workers for the mid-June reopening of the industry, which has been on lockdown for more than two months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

President of the All-Island Craft Traders and Producers Association Melody Haughton welcomed the decision yesterday but insisted that the Government, and Jamaicans in general, must continue to observe the protocols that will prevent the virus from spreading.

“People may look at it from another standpoint, but we are saying, as craft traders, right now, the present state that we are at, if the coronavirus doesn't kill us, lack of paying our bills, hunger, and everything that is coming at us will take us,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

“On that point, we are saying, yes, open back the country, allow the economy to grow, and allow us to earn. Put in the correct measures and we, as a people, take the precautions for ourselves, knowing that it is not business as usual so we have to take the protective measures that we need to take. But we cannot be at this stagnant point anymore. A lot of my traders don't know who to turn to or where to go anymore,” Haughton said.

She said the members of the association have reported that their savings have dried up since the closure of the Harbour Street Craft Market in Montego Bay where they sell their wares.

“We have been closed down completely. The entire market has been closed. There is absolutely no business. We were trying to network with corporate companies to see if we can get a little diversification, turning a thing to engage different types of entrepreneurs, but it still needs cash to start up, and we are not making any. A lot of persons were waiting on the grant from the Government, but it is not forthcoming right now, and we have to do something, we cannot sit like this,” the usually outspoken Haughton declared.

Jamaica's borders were closed to all incoming travellers on March 21 following the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. The first case was recorded on March 10.

The tourism sector, which contributed approximately US$3.7 billion to the economy from 4.3 million arrivals last year directly employs 170,000 people and provides indirect income to another 200,000.

The sector has been hard hit by the closure, losing approximately US$15 million daily, and workers, who have been laid off, are now reeling from the absence of income.

On Sunday, during a digital press conference from Jamaica House, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that the country's borders will be reopened to international travellers on June 15.

Two days later he told the Lower House that arriving travellers will undergo mandatory screening at the airports, where a determination will be made if they should be tested.

Yesterday, Haughton's views were echoed by Trelawny craft vendor Elisha Cummings, who is among many tourism-dependent workers eagerly awaiting the reopening of the sector.

Cummings, who sells finished craft items to tourists who stop at his roadside carving stand along Salt Marsh main road in Trelawny, was at pains to reveal how his earnings came to an abrupt end roughly two months ago after the industry ground to a halt due to the global spread of the coronavirus.

The shutdown of the tourism industry came shortly after the wood sculptor returned to work after being sidelined by injury for about nine months.

“I welcome the reopening of hotels because the two months break because of the COVID disease put it to about 11 months that I have lost. Prior to COVID, I have been unable to work for nine months because of a fractured leg,” he stated.

He was, however, quick to point out that he does not in any way wish to make money at the risk of a spike in the disease.

“We say health over money. So even though we want the sector to get going again we would love to see the tourists and front line workers adhere to the protocols to avoid any spread,” Cummings said.

Jodeen Brown, front office operator at Chukka Caribbean Adventure, is also welcoming the scheduled reopening with open arms.

“I am very excited for the reopening of the hotels as it has been many months all tourism workers have been home and missing their jobs,” she stressed, adding “this makes us appreciate the visitors even more, and I am looking forward to welcoming them back into the island.”

Meanwhile, hotel worker Tresan Smith, while saying that she is eager to return to work, expressed ambivalence.

“Going back to work brings mixed feelings for me. Though I'm anxious to be back and earning, I am also hesitant. I acknowledge that we will have to take personal responsibility in ensuring our own safety, but there is hesitation because I wonder about the protocols and procedures which will be implemented, or for those which have been implemented so far, are there enough to guarantee one's safety, will they follow through and manage the protocols, or will they just be nine-day talk?” she asked.

“I know I will be doing all that I can to take care of myself, but I also hope the same care and consideration will be coming from the persons in charge,” said the reservations agent at Royalton Blue Waters Hotel in Trelawny.

An informal taxi operator who plies the St James hotel circuit, bemoaned the significant drop in income since the temporary closure of hotels.

“I wouldn't mind if the hotels dem open up immediately. I carry home hotel workers at nights and dem stop work from long time. The country can't continue to lockdown forever,” the cabbie said.

John Campbell, who just this February switched from operating a wrecker at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay to being a porter, welcomed the decision.

“The closure very rough for mi, because mi have mi daughter deh a law school and mi son a go Cornwall College, and because mi nah work now everyting jus close dung pon mi,” he told the Observer yesterday.

“Mi son want di Internet fi do him work [but] mi cyaan afford di Internet, so from school stop him nuh get fi do him work, him jus' haffi get up everyday an deh practise maths,” Campbell said.

“So di opening a di airport, dat a one a di greatest, greatest ting.. I am so, so happy,” added Campbell who said he is the only breadwinner for his daughter and son.

“Wi haffi jus' protect wiself an' follow procedure, yuh know, wear yuh mask, sanitise, and wash wi hand dem very often,” Campbell said. “We cyaan jus' mek di virus lock dung di country.”

Another porter at the airport, Hopeton Burnett, said he agreed with the decision to reopen the airport. “You have a lot of people suffering right now as a result of loss of income. Some people don't know where the next cent is coming from. But it's just for us in the industry to abide by the protocols and ensure that we continue to sanitise, wash our hands regularly, keep our social distance, and so on, and I think everything will be fine,” Burnett said.

He said the closure of the sector has hit him financially as his savings are dwindling. At the same time, he expressed some amount of concern for his and his colleagues' safety if Jamaica should, at this time, allow visitors from countries where COVID-19 has had devastating effects. However, he admitted that he did not hear the prime minister's announcement about the protocols that will apply to visitors on arrival at the island's airports.

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