'Wait and See'
Uncertainty surrounds the return of cruise ships to St James, TrelawnyThursday, September 09, 2021
BY HORACE HINES
MONTEGO BAY, St James - When cruise shipping returned to the island for the first time in over a year last month with the arrival of a vessel in Ocho Rios, St Ann, stakeholders in the nearby parishes of Trelawny and St James began to salivate in anticipation of cruise arrivals in their ports by the end of this month.
The Carnival Sunrise cruise ship was the first vessel to arrive on the island since 2020 after the novel coronavirus pandemic disrupted cruise operations globally.
The ship docked at the Ocho Rios pier with more than 3,000 passengers on August 16.
But in light of the third wave of the deadly novel coronavirus now sweeping across the nation, cruise lines have seemingly adopted a wait-and-see attitude towards expanding their itineraries to other ports outside of Ocho Rios.
In fact, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett hinted that among other things, the return of cruise to Falmouth and Montego Bay is now delicately hinged on the nation's take-up of the vaccine, as well as how successful the Ocho Rios operations turn out.
“The indications are that the cruise lines are carefully watching how the start of the activities flow in Ocho Rios and also the level of vaccination and general management of the COVID in the countries... not only in Jamaica, but the entire region, before they ramp up the programme. So a lot depends on how we manage Ocho Rios,” Bartlett told the Jamaica Observer West yesterday.
The uncertainty of the eagerly awaited return of cruise shipping in the two western parishes could also be exacerbated by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) announcement on Tuesday that it has raised Jamaica to 'Level 4' on its travel advisory.
The CDC warned Americans to “avoid travel” to the island due to rising cases of COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness reported that the island recorded 672 new COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the infection total to 73,496, and virus death toll to 1,666.
Bartlett, in the meantime, was encouraged by the percentage of workers in the sector who have so far taken the COVID jab, noting that roughly 40 per cent of hotel workers have so far been inoculated.
“That's (vaccination of tourism workers) going very well. I am waiting on some figures for today (Wednesday), but the indications are that roughly 40 per cent of the tourism workers who are in the hotels...the accommodation sector, have been vaccinated.
“And we are pushing to move that up to the full vaccination levels which we have anticipated and that the tourism-related activities of our attractions and the craft vendors… we pushing to ensure that they also vaccinate so that in the end we achieve the target of the 140,000 overall, but I think the good news is that 40 per cent of the hotel workers would have had already, at least one dose,” said Bartlett.
Speaking in Montego Bay last month, Bartlett stressed that no one will be allowed to work in the cruise sector, if not vaccinated.
“We are not making things mandatory in the full sense of it, but we are saying that, because we are a prescribed group and we are dealing with people who are requiring that we are vaccinated stakeholders as a condition of their coming to Jamaica,” he stated.
“We are not going to allow the opening for cruise to become a point of concern for the health and security of our people.”
At the same time, he announced the establishment of the Tourism Vaccination Task Force to facilitate the vaccination of all tourism workers islandwide, with the roll-out of vaccination sites locally. The task force organised a series of vaccination blitzes, which officially began August 30, at strategic sites across the island.
Bartlett emphasised that “this initiative is aimed at encouraging our tourism workers to take the vaccine voluntarily, so vaccination is not mandated. The vaccination of tourism workers is key to tourism's full recovery. So, I encourage all our tourism workers to get vaccinated to play your part in safeguarding our tourism sector.”
The task force is working in tandem with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and various tourism stakeholders, both within the public and private sectors, to streamline and expedite the vaccination of tourism workers.
Among the persons being targeted are workers in hotels, villas and guest houses, attractions, airports, cruise ports, craft markets as well as ground transportation operators.
President of the All-Island Craft Traders and Producers Association, Melody Haughton, revealed that so far some 30 per cent of the 254 craft vendors who ply their wares at the Harbour Street Craft Market in Montego Bay have been vaccinated, with more slated to get the jab today and tomorrow.
Walford Forbes, one of two craft traders at the Falmouth Craft Market who spoke to the Observer West yesterday, expressed that
while he is eagerly anticipating the return of cruise vessels to the Falmouth pier, “realistically with the third wave of COVID, it will not materialise now.”
He, however, remained uncertain if he will be taking the COVID jab.
“It is something that I haven't decided on yet. I have options: I can give up the shop and mi have option to take the vaccine.
So me just a weigh the options now. With this thing (vaccine) there is a possibility that it (vaccine) will work and then there is the possibility that it won't work,” he argued.
“It is almost two years since COVID and we survive so what you tell we say, we can't survive?”
Another craft trader, who gave her name only as Miss Kelly, said she is eagerly awaiting the return of cruise ships into the Falmouth port. Like Forbes, she, however, acknowledged that the vessels might not be sailing into the historic port until the spread of the virus is under “better control.”
But, unlike Forbes, she is fully vaccinated.
“I am fully vaccinated. I have received my two AstraZeneca shots already,” she disclosed.