The Caribbean is mostly under Level 4 reviews, but travelers still go
Since it’s officially fall and it’s fresh in the air again, snowbirds are surely starting to think about heading south for the winter. Even those of us who live in milder climates could enjoy a tropical getaway after enduring 19 months of pandemic banality.
The Caribbean typically sees crowds of North Americans looking to escape their icy surroundings during the winter season, though the region, home to more than two dozen destinations, is an equally popular spring and summer retreat.
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But, in the midst of COVID-19, things can get a bit tricky for travelers dreaming of an island vacation, as much of the Caribbean, like many other countries on the planet, continues to struggle against the current wave of variants of the delta. And, while anyone in the United States can get their vaccines whenever they want, this region is struggling with insufficient access to vaccines, according to the Washington Post.
Due to the “very high” COVID-19 case rates, the United States Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) has issued a “Level 4: Very high COVID-19” advisory on the majority of tourist destinations of the Caribbean, which contains a recommendation that the public avoid going there altogether.
Currently in this category there are more than 20 tourist destinations, including Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, US Virgin Islands. If we start looking at the mainland destinations that border the Caribbean Sea, it becomes an even higher number.
A lower level, there is the warning “Level 3: High COVID-19”, which recommends that travelers be fully vaccinated before traveling to these destinations. Anguilla, Bonaire, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos currently carry this label, while the Dominican Republic and the Cayman Islands are the two to issue lower level advisories.
“Travel to the Caribbean was the first to experience a resurgence in early 2021 and while most destinations continue to maintain Level 4 status with the CDC, that hasn’t stopped travelers from moving away. 58 Stars Travel travel consultant Mike Salvadore said. He observed that interest in the region declined slightly during hurricane season and just after Europe reopened, but that interest in the Caribbean for fall and vacation travel is “robust”.
The CDC’s high-profile travel advisories don’t seem to dampen people’s enthusiasm for visiting the area. For example, the Bahamas saw almost 50% more visits through August than last year. I. Chester Cooper, Deputy Prime Minister of The Bahamas and Minister of Tourism, Investment and Aviation, said in an emailed statement that his country is optimistic it will also experience a “season of rugged vacation “.
Of course, things are still not what they were before the pandemic, as international travel is only starting to rebound. Neil Walters, acting secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, told the Post that the total number of international tourist arrivals to the Caribbean in the first half of 2021 reached 6.6 million, down 12 % compared to the first half of last year (in all fairness, trips didn’t close until mid-March 2020). This is also a decrease of 62% compared to the same period in 2019.
CDC’s travel advisories, however, can be a source of frustration for Caribbean officials and stakeholders. Vanessa Ledesma, interim CEO and managing director of the Caribbean Hospitality and Tourism Association (CHTA), said in September that the industry has been working hard to protect tourists and workers. “We have gone to great lengths to create the safest possible corridors in our tourism related communities,” she said. “Travel to the Caribbean is safe and continues to get safer. “
Ledesma also said she believed travel warnings based on COVID-19 positivity levels could be misleading. Clive Landis, who chairs the University of the West Indies in Barbados COVID-19 task force, is also skeptical of their value, especially when the warnings are applied to countries that have low overall case rates, such as Anguilla.
“I think here in the Caribbean, our record – even now with the surge of the Delta variant – is still, in terms of cases per capita… well below the United States,” Landis said. “It’s not like they’re stepping into some kind of hot spot that they’re not used to in their own country.”
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