PHILIPSBURG--United St. Maarten Party (US Party) Member of Parliament Claudius “Toontje” Buncamper on Wednesday made a plea for government to relax the requirements to enter the country, to attract tourists back.
He made the call during an urgent public meeting on the short- and medium-term financial socio-economic outlook and solutions for St. Maarten. He said arrivals in the country are down by 70 per cent and this figure can plummet significantly if the country introduces rapid antigen tests at its ports of entry. “People are going to other destinations because it is too cumbersome to come here and tourists don’t want to get involved in that.”
St. Maarten should steer clear of mandatory testing and instead advise travellers to perform this test. A PCR test can be done on persons, who are tested inconclusive or positive at their expense. This approach, he opined, will attract airlines such as Sun Wing back to the destination.
Buncamper said no funds are coming into the country because of the nonchalant behaviour of authorities so that the country is not getting ahead of the coronavirus COVID-19 curve. “We need to do something to get tourists back in St. Maarten today. Not tomorrow, today,” he said. “Other countries have opened up and allowed other methodologies.”
He alluded to statements made by Maho Group President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Saro Spadaro, who said recently that St. Maarten should do on-arrival rapid antigen testing for guests and the country should step up its game and exploit opportunities to attract visitors to the country. Spadaro said government is lagging in its decision-making process and its adoption of on-arrival rapid antigen testing, noting: “We are running out of time. Tourism, and the livelihood of this country, is at severe risk.”
Buncamper said the hotelier’s statements should be taken very seriously.
“The bigger picture now is that you will have to relax our requirements if we want to stand a chance to survive the crisis,” he said, noting that persons will get sick from COVID-19, but St. Maarten cannot whine about it.
“We will have to relax our requirements if we want to stand a chance to survive the crisis. That’s how simple it is.”
According to Buncamper, while civil servants feel relaxed because their salaries are guaranteed, this is not the same for the private sector. Social and Health Insurances (SZV), he said, is losing NAf. 5 million monthly, as it lost some 4,500 insured persons, while the country is “pussyfooting” to allow people to come into the country.
“We got to get real. We have to stop this thing about we are the boss so we can decide. Get off of that horse or someone will take you off, because this country needs to survive. … Government cannot become the stumbling block of the population of this country. We have to understand our role. Our role is to facilitate not to destroy. Once we understand that role we can do a lot of things.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by some other MPs, including National Alliance (NA) MP Christophe Emmanuel who asked, “Why are we closed?” and urged authorities to “open our country.” He said 72 stores on Front Street are closed, translating to some 360 workers who are affected.