Safety remains issue number one for Caribbean countries mulling the reopening of borders following COVID-19 lockdown, the Prime Minister told the BBC today.

Appearing as CARICOM Chairman, Mia Mottley said in a BBC World television interview that even in the face of a crippling impact on the region’s bread-and-butter industry, the Caribbean would not be driven by dates.

“We are in deep conversations with each other on a common public health protocol within the region, we are also having discussions with the airlines and the cruise industry, but we are not going to be driven by a date, we are going to be driven by a satisfaction that we have safe protocols that keep our workers safe, keep our people safe, that keep our visitors safe,” she said.

Mottley was hopeful that the tourism sector would become functional within weeks rather than months but reiterated that the region would only do so when it had covered all bases.

She told the BBC’s Matthew Amroliwala: “The big issue is testing and testing before people get on the plane and testing when people arrive. Quite frankly…we need access to rapid tests or test protocols that will allow us to determine what is the risk that we are going to take if a person is tested 24 hours before or should the person be tested within a matter of hours before going to check-in.

“We have also recognised that the unemployment rates in most countries that are tourism-dependent have gone from double to treble in some instances. It is no different from what’s happening in the UK and the US.

“The difference, however, is we have a much narrower base and there are a number of countries that effectively depend on tourism”.

She noted that there may have been a silver lining for Caribbean hoteliers, who normally would have used the down period to undertake rehabilitation work, training and other activities related to their plants.

“But the scale of unemployment has been crippling,” she added.

Mottley stressed the Caribbean was “trying to balance lives and livelihoods like everywhere else”.

The region’s tourism-dependent economies have been crippled by the virus that was first detected in central China last December and blamed for more than 340,000 deaths and 5.5 million infections worldwide.

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