'Do the right thing'
MoBay deputy mayor warns that vaccine hesitancy could derail gains made in tourismThursday, September 02, 2021
BY ROCHELLE CLAYTON
MONTEGO BAY, St James — With Jamaica's tourism industry rebounding since reopening its doors to visitors in June 2020, deputy Mayor of Montego Bay Richard Vernon has warned that if the country does not achieve its vaccination target, the sector may be forced to close a second time.
The sector was shut down in March 2020 for roughly three months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Jamaica started to receive flights recently and that is [because] the countries had confidence in Jamaica as a leisure destination. If we do not achieve majority vaccination in Jamaica, we are going to lose that privilege. And you can see where we are now trying hard to stay outside of the 'red list', and if we do not become vaccinated fast enough as a country to achieve majority vaccination, chances are we might end up on the 'red list.' That would be bad news for Jamaica and that would be [worse] news for Montego Bay,” the deputy mayor argued.
The 'red list' is a part of the United Kingdom's “traffic light system” aimed at keeping their citizens from visiting countries they deem high-risk for new and emerging strains of the coronavirus. Under the current guidelines, UK citizens and residents are advised not to travel to 'red list' countries for any leisure purposes. Jamaica is currently on the 'amber list' based on the country's current spike in COVID-19 cases.
Vernon pointed out that with Montego Bay being one of Jamaica's top tourist destinations, some 30,000 tourism workers in and around the city would be forced out of a job should the industry shutdown for a second time as a result of the country's low vaccination take-up.
“When you check the numbers, we are talking about this affecting tourism, we are talking about more than a quarter of GDP [gross domestic product] being contributed by tourism. We are talking about more than a quarter of the labour force being made up of tourism workers and when you talk about Montego Bay, which has about 40 per cent of the rooms in Jamaica, you are talking about sending home some 30,000 [individuals] that would not be able to work if we should fail where tourism is concerned,” Vernon argued.
He stressed that a downturn in the sector will have a far-reaching impact on the society.
“There are further implications because when a person cannot contribute to the coffers of a government by virtue of them not working and being able to pay taxes, then the Government has no money to spend and sometimes these same persons' families depend on the Government to fulfill certain social services like the PATH (Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education), and poor relief to survive on a day-to-day basis,” he told the Observer West.
“And, of course, if we do not get to a certain level of vaccination, you can expect that the Government will have to consider more no-movement days, which also have implications on our production as a country.”
Pointing out that he is not forcing residents to get vaccinated, the deputy mayor maintained that he believes individuals should do “their due diligence…and do the right thing.”
“I'm not forcing anybody to take the vaccine because I am not for forcing persons to get vaccinated. I am for persons doing their due diligence, get the information, and do the right thing,” Vernon stressed.
“It [should] not be about 'I don't want to take the vaccine', there are other things to be considered and it is not just about us here in Jamaica because we do not survive on our own. We rely heavily on international markets and imports to survive. So, if we are going to be a part of the grand scheme of things as a country, we [must] play our part as Jamaicans and get vaccinated,” the deputy mayor added.
Vernon is urging all Jamaicans who are playing the “wait-and-see game” to stop wasting time, as other countries have successfully rolled out their vaccination programmes.
“If you are going to sit and wait to see what the vaccine is doing to others before you take it, then you are wasting time and we are going to sit the next two or three years in the wilderness as little Jamaica, not [fully] vaccinated, can't access certain things on the international market and don't have any tourists visiting because we are in the 'red zone', and it is high-risk flying here. I don't know what my fellow young persons are waiting on, but they need to take this thing seriously and realise that this is bigger than them,” Vernon pleaded.
Last month Jamaica recorded its one millionth visitor since the reopening of the tourism sector.
“[This] is a milestone achievement in the tourism annals. Never before within a year and a month have we ever had one million stopover visitors coming. As a matter of fact, when we accumulate stopover and cruise the record is still there because it took us close to 20 years of recording numbers to reach the first one million of both cruise and stopover visitors,” said Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett recently.
“The achievement of this million visitors means that we now have generated, since the opening on the 15th of June, 2020, a little over US$1.5 billion of foreign exchange earnings.”
The return of the tourism sector has seen some 50,000 tourism workers back in their jobs, Bartlett added.
“We've been able to bring back the workers. It is to record that when we closed the borders, we sent nearly 130,000 workers furloughed or laid off completely, or having a day a week or so. And since we have returned, more than 50,000 workers have come back to work in the tourism sector. That's the accommodation sector and its immediately related areas,”said Bartlett.
According to Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, roughly 520,000 vaccines have been administered to Jamaicans since the island's vaccination against COVID-19 programme started in March.
He says the Government has set itself a target of about 750,000 vaccinations by the end of the month.