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Governor Calls for Preflight COVID-19 Testing, Has Optimistic Outlook on Future of Tourism

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. during CHTA’s Caribbean Tourism Fireworks on Wednesday morning. (Submitted photo)

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. believes predeparture testing at mainland U.S. airports, as well as increased adherence to public health protocols, would bolster the efficacy of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus both locally and throughout the Caribbean.

Speaking Wednesday during a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) “Caribbean Tourism Fireworks” discussion hosted by Frank Comito, who is CEO and director general of the private sector hospitality association, Gov. Bryan said mandatory preflight testing would make travel to the Caribbean healthier and easier.

Reporting on meetings held earlier this week with St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, the governor said they agreed on the need for the rollout of rapid test technology to protect Caribbean visitors and residents. They also recalled the tragic events of Sept. 11, which killed some 3,000 souls and led to the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration and federal security measures to ensure the attacks could never recur.

At the same time, the two leaders lamented the fact that COVID-19 has so far led to the deaths of more than 150,000 people in the United States alone, but effective, universal travel protocols have yet to be put in place to contain the pandemic.

The territory’s chief executive said he welcomed conversations with other Caribbean heads of government to consider standardized public health protocols. “We have a real symbiotic relationship here in the Caribbean, and it looks like we are going to work closer together to take care of Caribbean tourism.”

Recent increases in the spreading of the coronavirus in the USVI are being attributed to asymptomatic Virgin Islanders who live and work abroad and are returning for family events and unknowingly infecting friends and family members in close-knit communities, particularly on St. Thomas. Bryan noted that while the overwhelming majority of residents have been complying with the territory’s pandemic protocols and guidelines, “familiarity lessens [adherence to] restrictions,” and he reported stronger communications tactics will be deployed to remind residents the pandemic “does not take prisoners.”

While a significant portion of the tourism sector has not fully reopened since the 2017 hurricanes, Bryan noted the closures have given resorts time to upgrade, refurbish and refresh their properties. In fact, prior to the pandemic, the USVI’s tourism sector had been recovering well with hotel bookings and villa and charter rentals “going through the roof,” he said.

Tax abatements and other economic incentives have also boosted investor interest in the private sector while the government completes infrastructural projects to enhance the attractiveness of the territory and make it easier to travel around the islands.

With an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in prisons and senior citizen residential facilities, every effort is being made to increase rapid testing, including testing at airports and throughout the community as the destination counts down to its planned reopening to leisure travelers in mid-September.

The territory’s earlier problems with the availability and expense of needed equipment have been addressed successfully, and the price of testing has been reduced from $150 to somewhere between $30 and $50.

The governor said the islands’ current monthlong pause on welcoming leisure visitors will be used to strengthen existing containment measures and to invite U.S. stateside doctors and nurses to share their expertise and tithe their time at local medical facilities.

Despite his optimistic outlook and expectation of recovery for anyone who contracts the virus, Bryan expressed his personal sorrow over every new case detected, whether in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean or anywhere in the world.

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