The announcement of new COVID-19 cases in St. Maarten (see related story) is no reason to panic. The fact that many of them were not imported such as one on last Saturday’s repatriation flight from the US is obviously reason for some concern. However, it appears that a resident reported to Collective Prevention Services (CPS) due to flu-like symptoms was recently on another Caribbean island after all.
There can nevertheless be little doubt that local transmission has been and is probably still taking place. Contact-tracing and targeted testing, combined with quarantining and close monitoring are the best methods to prevent another large outbreak.
But the public must be realistic too. It is a bit naïve to think zero infections can be maintained while the virus remains so prevalent in most of the world. Even without accepting visitors from so-called high-risk areas, persons do continue to come in and those who test negative today could yet turn out to be positive later.
In other words, it is simply unfeasible to know 100 per cent for sure that a territory is “corona-free” as they say. Closing borders or delaying their reopening again is therefore not the answer.
The tourism economy has been practically at a standstill for more than four months and if it were not for payroll support made possible by liquidity loans from the Netherlands, there would be even more business closures and layoffs. The hospitality sector greatly relies on American guests, so again postponing a third time their return now planned for August 1 will make a bad situation that much worse also in terms of confidence in the destination among industry stakeholders and partners such as booking agents and airlines.
Aruba has permitted US travel since July 10 and lets people from less-affected states take a test on arrival, which produced just a handful of positive but already self-isolated cases. Travel from riskier states like Florida requires a negative PCR test within 72 hours before boarding.
One of the ideas behind this differentiated approach is that getting tested and obtaining results within a matter of days is not always easy in the US. This will therefore be mandatory only when considered necessary depending on geographical location.
What is happening in Aruba can serve as example for St. Maarten as it gets set to reopen to its biggest market next week. Up to now the general impression is that it can be done in a relatively safe and responsible manner.