'Don't lock us down'

'Don't lock us down'

Operators of attractions appeal to keep COVID Resilient Corridor open

Staff reporter

Friday, August 14, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Tourism stakeholders are pleading with the Government to keep the COVID Resilient Corridor open, as closing it would be rubbing salt in the wounds of investors who are yet to recover from the millions of dollars in losses brought on by the the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We are appealing, 'Please, let the corridor do what it was intended to do'. We have the most to lose if it doesn't work, therefore we have the most to gain if it does; therefore we are invested in it,” CEO of Chukka Caribbean Adventures Marc Melville said during a press conference in Montego Bay on Wednesday.

“Soon after we were allowed to open, we heard the news that tourists will no longer be able to leave their hotels again. During this period of COVID, we had to burn a lot of critical cash to restart our respective businesses,” he said.

Mike Drakulich, chairman/CEO Mystic Mountain, echoed Melville's sentiments.

“To penalise us with the threat of lockdown because of an out-of-control sector we should not even be associated with is grossly unfair and a setback to our business, our employees, their families, and the nation's ultimate road to recovery.

“Why is it that we who are certified and set the example that the country needs to follow are being pressured? You are sending the wrong message, Sir,” Drakulich stated in a letter to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett.

“If the official tours are not open, people will do business unofficially, without training, and that's the real risk because the entities that are causing these problems have no protocols or don't enforce them — even if they pretend they do.

“I am letting you know we will be open every weekend in August. Mystic Mountain is safe, fun and exciting. It is good for Jamaica. Don't lock us down; hold us up as the standard,” he urged the minister.

The operators of attractions were reacting to an advisory from the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, which pointed to an amended Disaster Risk Management Order that classified all visitors staying in the COVID Resilient Corridor as high-risk, and as such are required to stay at the hotel property for the duration of their stay, ostensibly in the wake of a spike in imported cases of COVID-19.

When contacted, Bartlett denied there was any intention to lock down the COVID Resilient Corridor.

Melville on Wednesday conceded that the attraction operators do understand that there is spike in COVID-19 cases.

“I am not pointing fingers, but we all know that we are having a problem with some persons who are returning; people are excited to come who are not staying in the corridor and are not necessarily following the quarantine rules.

“The resilient corridors were set up so that a person could get off the plane after going through the Jamcovid process, get to the airports, be screened or tested, and then you will be let out into a Tourism Product Development Company-certified transportation that would be taken to a COVID-certified hotel. If he desired to leave the hotel, he would go to a COVID-certified bar, restaurant, attraction,” Melville said.

The CEO said the COVID Resilient Corridor is not a perfect situation, but insisted that it is the better of two evils.

In his letter to Bartlett, Drakulich argued that his company “is a shining example for Jamaica's tourism recovery and our nation's economic recovery in general”.

“We should not be penalised for the indiscipline of party-goers, event organisers, and the massive that invade the beaches and rivers with impunity and carelessness,” Drakulich said.

He added: “We are providing vital public health screening — not one elevated temperature in the over 10,000 we have tested at our entrance before they enter our park nor for any of our staff tested daily entering the workplace. We pray this continues.

“All this has been done at great cost to us. Millions of dollars, that no one really has, were used to pay employees, to train our team members, and purchase PPEs [personal protective equipment],” he continued. “We were also certified after robust directions by the Tourism Product Development Company.”

Melville mirrored the Mystic Mountain boss.

“If there is anybody willing and invested in ensuring that the protocols were being followed, that there is not an outbreak of COVID, and that this corridor can be protected, are the Chukka team members and our competitors,” stated Melville.

“We are interested in ensuring that the corridor works. We have everything to lose if the corridor does not work. Our staff are trained and they are committed to the protocols because it keeps us between that and a full lockdown,” he said.

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