By Caribbean News Global contributor
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent — Delivering the National Heroes’ Day address from the Obelisk on Dorsetshirehill, in the current global environment which has seen several countries placing travel restrictions, prime minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves reinvigorated intra-regional travel notwithstanding the impact of COVID-19 on CARICOM economies.
“We have to think creatively in relation to how we are going to sustain our economy. Services are important, tourism services; yachts will come and planes will come. We are strengthening the security for the yachts, the surveillance and the management from a health standpoint,” he said.
Some countries are discouraging travel, with the United States banning flights from Europe for 28 days, and several cruise lines and air carriers have announced suspensions of service to several destinations. Additionally, several Caribbean destinations have placed a ban on all cruise ship calls for the remainder of the season.
According to the Vincentian prime minister, persons departing St Vincent and the Grenadines by air have to pay a US$40.00 departure tax. He added that he is waiting for information from the ministry of finance to see how much revenue St Vincent and the Grenadines would lose if the departure tax is reduced by 50 percent for a period not exceeding six months.
The suggested reduced departure tax will only apply to CARICOM passport holders traveling within CARICOM, but “If you’re traveling outside, you’ll still have to pay the same extent of the tax.”
The final percentage of a reduced head tax according to Dr Gonsalves would “depend on when I see the final numbers when they are run. And I’m hoping to get that Monday morning.
“You notice what I’m trying to do to see if we can still keep some hotel trade within the region and also some yachting business. You can’t lock yourself off from the world. We have to take reasonable steps.
“You may say, well, what about people coming in with COVID-19 from the region? Well, thus far we haven’t had community transmission. We haven’t had local transmission. We have had people come in from outside and they’re either being quarantined or isolated. So we’ll do that and manage it and look at it carefully on an ongoing basis.”
The Vincentian prime minister pointed out during his address that he had spoken to some CARICOM heads.
“We have to encourage. If the Americans saying they are not encouraging people to travel and the Europeans say they not encouraging people to travel, in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) we have 650,000 persons, Trinidad and Tobago has 1.3 million, Barbados is 300,000, and then there is Guyana with 700,000. We can have a market in this part in the southern and eastern Caribbean,” he explained.
The virus, which has resulted in over 4,000 deaths internationally, has been confirmed in several CARICOM nations, including St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Saint Lucia and Jamaica, most of which have been imported cases.
Several Caribbean countries have also taken steps to reduce transmission of the virus, by closing all schools and restricting public gathering.
The COVID-19 outbreak has forced the cancellation of major sporting events worldwide, including the UEFA Champions League, CONCACAF Nations League, NBA, and several West Indies Regional Cricket tournaments.