OCHO RIOS, St Ann — A massive security presence in this resort town ensured that the outrage among some Jamaicans did not reflect in the treatment meted out to cruise ship passengers who spent hours here yesterday.
Several of those passengers, who arrived on the Carnival Sunrise, were seen having a merry time.
But some Jamaicans were vocal in expressing their displeasure at the ship being allowed to dock on a no-movement day, when most locals had to remain indoors as part of an intensified effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett, amid the controversy, said the ship was allowed on local shores because Government was fulfilling a contract with Carnival Cruise Lines signed prior to the decision to the no-movement day declaration.
With residents mainly indoors, the streets of Ocho Rios remained virtually deserted.
Tourists were transported by bus to designated attractions, which are located within resilient corridors, bubbles in which safety protocols are expected to be strictly adhered to.
Chairman of the Tourism Resilient Corridors Committee John Byles, who was on the ground observing yesterday's proceedings, agreed that operations were “very controlled”.
“There is even more scrutiny by the agencies today and more controls in the movement of guests throughout the corridor,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
The agencies that kept a watchful eye included the Ministry of Health (MOH), Byles said.
“What we hope to see is that, as the MOH sees for themselves at a micro level how it [the resilient corridor] is operating, they would see the ability to open up for more inclusiveness,” Byles said. “We are keeping our eyes on the ball; we have a responsibility to maintain the protocols.”
As part of maintaining COVID-19 protocols, police and private security guards were seen in unusually high numbers in and around the cruise ship pier.
At Island Village shopping centre, which is located within the resilient corridor, a security guard interrogated a local resident who tried to make his way inside. “No Jamaican is allowed to go in,” she was overheard saying.
Inside tourists were observed frolicking on the beach, patronising jewellery stores, and dining at restaurants.
One store operator, who declined to give her name, said it appeared many tourists did not bother to disembark the ship, which had some 1,700 passengers aboard. “Things are slow. A lot of people didn't come off the ship this time. I think it is because they hear about the lockdown,” she said.
Another Jamaican, Kemar Small, who was excited about being allowed to sell coconuts on a spot along the resilient corridor, was of the view that the number of tourists seemed lower than usual.
“Mi usually si more people [tourists],” he told the Observer. “Mi glad that the ship come in again because about 17 months now, I nuh collect a US dollar. When mi si the ship start come in back, mi haffi appreciate it.”
There were also several tourists at Dunn's River and other businesses on the resilient corridor, including Taj Mahal Shopping Centre, where many dined and patronised stores.
But the atmosphere was different a few metres up the street at two craft markets. The hundreds of vendors in those venues threatened to protest. They accused the authorities and tour bus operators of not taking tourists to the craft markets, though those facilities are located within the resilient corridor.
In contrast, however, tour bus operators who descended on Ocho Rios at daybreak, expressed glee that the cruise ship docked, albeit on a no-movement day.
“We haven't received cruise ships for a number of months, and we just started to get them back. The cruise lines have choices; they could have gone to another country easily, but they chose to stop in our destination. We have to embrace them because it is our business,” president of Maxi Tours Horace Taylor told the Observer.
He noted that, despite the increased business opportunity, it is important to ensure that people adhere to the protocols set out to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
Another tour bus operator, Christopher Pinnock of JCAL Tours (Ocho Rios), said: “I think it is a good thing because our industry has been down for about one year and six months. These guys [tour bus operators] have been out of salary; we haven't been working.”
Taylor also reasoned that, in the end, the country benefits when the cruise ships arrive.