BASSETERRE, St. Kitts –- The opening of St. Kitts and Nevis borders fully to travellers from the region or beyond was discussed by Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris during his opening remarks on the Oct. 27 Leadership Matters.
“This is an historic moment,” said Hon. Dr. Harris. “By utilizing an all of society approach, we as a people and country bonded together, put our best foot forward, confronted the COVID-19 Pandemic and survive to tell the story.
“It is an amazing success story that the smallest country in the hemisphere – St. Kitts and Nevis – has been the most successful in controlling COVID-19,” he said. “Of all independent countries in the world, we have the lowest number of COVID-19 cases at 19. We have managed to avoid the community spread taking place in other countries. All cases are successfully recovered and thanks be to God we have no deaths so far.
“We have to keep doing the sensible thing. Following the science. Complying with the protocols. We have to do the right thing. We must do all that we can to keep safe. Be careful not fearful. We do the right things and we leave the rest to our all-powerful God.
“I want to record my deepest appreciation to our citizens and residents who very early on recognized the danger of COVID-19. You made the sacrifice as we closed our borders, imposed lockdowns, insisted on the wearing of masks, and you complied with the protocols for hand hygiene, social and physical distancing. Yes the majority of people are in agreement with the Government’s policies and are grateful that the Team Unity led administration has kept them safe.
“We have implemented a stepwise approach, following the science, learning from others and adapting to meet our unique situation. We opened up gradually and carefully such sectors as agriculture and fisheries, manufacturing, retail and wholesale, construction, etc. Now we focus our efforts on revitalizing our hotel and restaurant sectors.
“There are risks associated with opening up our borders. These risks however are manageable. We have been encouraged to wear masks for months. Let us make sure we do so especially after Saturday (October 31st, 2020) when a new influx of persons will come in from some high-risk areas such as the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK), Europe, and other Caribbean islands.
“We are among the last to open up. We were among the first to close. You may ask why are we opening up when we have fought COVID-19 so well thus far? I can answer that question ‘Why are we opening up?’ in the following ways:
1. “We are opening up fully now so that our citizens and permanent residents “trapped” abroad by COVID-19 could return to our beautiful and peaceful country. They have families waiting for them to return and churches, communities and jobs waiting for them. We promised that when we regained some normalcy our people would be allowed to return home. Things are relatively under control at this time. After seven months in another country it is time for our people to return home. There is no place like home. We have strengthened our health system. Expended nearly $3 million to support the Cuban medical brigade, expended nearly $7 million to retrofit the St. Christopher Air & Sea Ports Authority (SCASPA) and to keep its workers safe on the job. We have spent millions on our Early Childhood sector and on Education generally. Our people have been educated and they know what to do to keep themselves safe.
2. “We are opening up because people want a sense of near normalcy in their lives. Work is a critical aspect of that normalcy. When COVID-19 struck, over 26,000 jobs were available in St. Kitts and Nevis – the highest in history. Some people had the benefit of two jobs. I commend their industry. For them it is not the same. They need the self-worth, routine, stability, and income that a job provides – a reason to get up and something to look forward to do. Work adds a sense of balance and purpose and helps to anchor one’s health. We cannot keep the economy locked down in perpetuity or for too long, as certain sectors would be completely destroyed. Truth is we know enough to open carefully and safely. I am happy that we were able to assist those made jobless by COVID-19 with income support through our Government’s Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) and a $1,000.00 monthly stipend through the Social Security Board. To date, over $45 million has been provided to support displaced workers and a further $11.1 million invested in our Severance Fund.
3. “We are opening up to allow our hotels, guest houses and residences to re-engage those who were laid off.
4. “Our country is part of the world. We are stepping up our efforts to restore our economy. Allowing tourism to rebuild is a critical part of our recovery plan. We will open up safely. Our medical experts have established protocols for us to do so. All we need to do is to follow the guidelines and be wise, use common sense, and protect our families, our loved ones, our country and ourselves.
“As we are discussing opening up, I want to address some other matters.
The Cost of Quarantine and Exemptions
“There has been some misinformation regarding the cost to persons being placed in quarantine. I remind the public that:
1. “There is no adequate public venue for quarantine. We started with the system of quarantining at home. Some breached it and put many persons at risk. As a result, we had to secure Government-monitored quarantine sites, in order to keep our people safe.
2. “Ocean Terrace Inn (OTI) and other hotels have accepted to provide designated areas e.g. block of rooms appropriately suited and situated on their property to serve as quarantine facilities. The cost at OTI was negotiated with its owners, the TDC Group of Companies. The cost is USD $500.00 for 14 days, which equates to about USD $35.00 per day. There is no profit in it for the Government. The full USD $500.00 goes to TDC. In some countries, it is USD $100.00 per day. Here, our people pay a minimum cost.
3. “Government bears the costs of electricity and water, which are hugely substantial. So we are subsidizing the stay at OTI for every guest. We pay security there and we have to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for officers, etc.
4. “Arrangements at the Royal St Kitts Hotel and Sugar Bay or any other hotel are privately negotiated.
5. “Additionally, students and persons over the age of 62 are generally exempted from payment on request (this arrangement is in place only at OTI and applies to our returning nationals). We have, for example, brought home by charter, students from Cuba and Jamaica at a cost of over $225,000.00 dollars. We quarantined them free of cost. We issued a $1000.00 stipend to our students in the USA who requested our support. We have done more than any other government to assist our citizens and residents. We offered a $120 million dollar stimulus package, the largest and the best in our region.
Dr. Harris continued, “We are working hard to keep our people safe. We will continue to do our best to ensure that we can keep our people safe, with the least possible cost or burden imposed on our people.
“More cannot reasonably be expected from the Government, especially at this time of difficulty in the world economy.
All of Society Approach
“I call on all of us to be responsible.
“Since we are talking about opening our borders, I wish to say something to our taxi operators and others.
“Taxi Operators and all persons in Hotel and Hospitality need to be very much aware that it is not business as usual. Changes are required.
“One such change is the use of Plexiglas or lucite plastic. This is to protect you and your customers from transmission of the virus. I am advised that Lucite plastic is cheaper, and the reconfiguration can be done for less than $250.00. To spend $250.00 to sustain a business for over a year is worthwhile. I say a year because COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future and at least for a year.
“All hotel workers and those in hospitality must protect themselves. Your employers have a duty to provide you with personal protective equipment to enhance your safety on the job. Please insist on these.
“I close by encouraging all of our people to be on guard. Treat the COVID-19 pandemic with the seriousness it deserves. The life you save could well be yours. It is a most contagious disease that has infected 43,147,494 people and caused 1,155,553 deaths globally.
“This is a complex virus that is constantly changing, and we do not yet know enough about it even now.
“We are taking a major step forward,” concluded Dr. Harris. “We can make this journey together. Our opening safely is critical if we are to secure the stronger and safer future.”