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JHTA says Jamaica as a destination doing very well in complying with COVID-19 protocols

THE local tourism industry yesterday provided data showing that Jamaica's adherence to strict COVID-19 protocols has resulted in the island being safe for visitors, and said that the increased availability of vaccines will enhance that position.

Noting that Jamaica welcomed 826,549 stopover visitors from January to August 31, 2021, the umbrella Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) said data from the major testing laboratories that conduct COVID-19 departure testing on returning visitors show that the departure outgoing positivity rate is just over one per cent and has tracked 0.6 of one per cent for nearly every month since January 2021 when the testing protocol was implemented, averaging 0.7 per cent over the period.

According to the JHTA, this very low percentage has been maintained throughout the various COVID-19 spikes which got to positivity rates as high as 49 per cent.

“This low tourist positivity rate in Jamaica versus the rate of our three major source markets over the same period is more than commendable,” JHTA President Clifton Reader said in a statement.

According to Reader, as of September 10 (tracking the last seven days) the three major source markets — United States, Canada, and United Kingdom — have positivity rates less than 10 per cent, with the USA at 9.1 per cent; Canada, 5.1 per cent; and UK, 5.9 per cent. These figures, he pointed out, were supplied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Public Health Agency of Canada, and Public Health England, respectively.

“Jamaica's success and excellent COVID safety record has come due to the adherence to the protocols since reopening in June 2020 without vaccines. The advent of vaccines will serve as an added element in making the tourism sector even safer,” Reader said.

His statement comes after the CDC last week included Jamaica on a list of countries it designated as high-risk destinations for travel due to increases in COVID-19 cases.

However, Reader noted that as early as April 2020, a month after the first case of the novel coronavirus was reported in Jamaica, the JHTA and all tourism entities undertook a major programme to self-regulate, and worked in tandem with the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Health and Wellness, and Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) to craft and implement some of the most robust COVID-19 protocols industry-wide.

“This included the airports, seaports, hotels, attractions, craft vendors, transportation providers, etc,” he said.

Reader added that since reopening of the industry, and the initial inspections and certifications of all entities, well over 1,372 additional inspections have been carried out by TPDCo, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and the Ministry of Local Government. These inspections, he noted, are ongoing and have been enhanced by the training of more than 26,000 tourism workers.

TPDCo Chairman Ian Dear has reported that the industry compliance rate has been and continues to be over 95 per cent, and any entity that did not meet the strict protocol did not receive certification and has not been allowed to reopen.

Reader further explained that in addition to these protocols, the JHTA, as a further measure, lobbied and got the Government to agree to pre-testing of all arriving visitors to the island, including Jamaicans.

“This was only done after the cost and availability of tests was at a point that it would not be discriminatory to either Jamaicans travelling or visitors,” Reader said.

He said the tourism industry is able to track all visitor arrivals and departure information with added screening before entering into the managed protocol space of the resilient corridor established by the Ministry of Tourism.

“All inbound visitors are tested and screened as per Government protocols and this is further buttressed by extremely strong outbound testing requirements from the island's main source markets, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. This gives the Government and the JHTA factual insight and source data for all tourists coming in and leaving Jamaica, with their movements monitored in-between,” Reader stated.

He noted that just under 40 per cent of Jamaica's hotel workers have, to date, been vaccinated, and given the uptick in vaccine acceptance, the rate is on pace to exceed 50 per cent within the next two weeks.

“We are confident that the growing vaccination numbers among our workers can be the motivator for other sectors. Tourism directly accounts for a large component of Jamaica's workforce and our employees, as a collective body, are leading the charge,” he said.

Reader reiterated the tourism sector's thanks to the Ministry of Health and Wellness and its hard-working health-care workers, and pledged continued support for the work they are doing.

He also noted that under the Private Sector Vaccine Initiative all tourism workers and their families have been encouraged to avail themselves of the vaccines being administered at dedicated vaccination centres.

“This partnership has already yielded tremendous success, with over 10 vaccination blitzes already held,” he said.

Reader added that while the protocols have kept Jamaicans safe, increased vaccination levels “will give our team members an extra layer of protection”.

“The JHTA strongly believes that with the continued adherence to protocols, as vaccination levels continue to rise both here and abroad, these will only provide the already successful resilient corridor a further level of success,” Reader said.

Clifton Reader
BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor- publications davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

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