By Demion McTair. Updated 1:42 a.m., Monday, July 20, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Discussion: American Airlines (AA) resumed scheduled commercial flights to St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Saturday, July 11, 2020, after suspending flights in March, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The flights, however, originate from Miami, Florida, a place that is currently a COVID-19 hotbed.
So far, some 16 new active cases have been associated with the two recent AA flights (July 11 and July 18).
Currently, in Florida where the flights originated, over 350,000 COVID-19 cases have been recorded, with nearly 5,000 deaths.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a relatively new international airport and has invested a lot of time and resources into getting international commercial flights out of the US, cannot make moves at this time that can jeopardize or strain relations with key airlines.
The country must consider a number of key factors when addressing the issue.
The country must consider its tourism, which has been adversely affected due to the pandemic. Some 42 percent of stay over visitors to the country come from the US and a considerable number of those come by air.
The country must also consider the technical and financial ramifications involved in airline route scheduling and servicing, complicated exercises requiring some level of certainty.
The country must also pay attention to the fact that its tourism product is not as well-established and well-subscribed as some of its neighbors.
The rights of Vincentian nationals who have been stranded overseas for months due to the pandemic and foreigners stuck in St. Vincent, wanting to go home, must also be considered.
At the same time, however, the country cannot refuse to make moves that will safeguard the public health and safety of citizens.
Striking a balance between making a move to protect public health and considering other important factors is between the rock and the hard place where the country currently finds itself.
So far, the two American Airlines flights (July 11 and 18) are being tagged as the portals through which some 16 cases have emerged within the country.
Calls have been intensifying on social media for flights out of the USA to be halted until the COVID-19 situation in the US improves.
So far, the country has given an indication of what could happen regarding the AA 945 flight.
In a release issued on Sunday (July 19), the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), stated that the American Airlines Miami-SVG flights could be discontinued “In light of the uncontrolled nature of the COVID-19 epidemic in the USA and in particular Florida and the significant potential impact on the health system of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” (SVG).
“The Health Services Subcommittee of the National Emergency Committee has recommended that the AA 945 flight be monitored closely with a view to discontinuation,” the release states.
New and advanced protocols have also been instituted to respond to the spike in cases.
The release from NEMO say “Going forward all passengers arriving on the AA 945 flight from Miami and those transiting to SVG, having travelled on any commercial flight out of the USA:
1. Must arrive with a negative COVID-19 PCR test result
2. Must arrive with proof of a reservation in a TA/MOHWE (Tourism Authority/Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment) approved hotel for five (5) nights.
3. Will be quarantined in a TA/MOHWE approved hotel for five (5) days.
4. Will be tested for COVID-19 before release from the quarantine approved hotel.
5. Will continue quarantine in an approved home/facility for a period of nine (9) to sixteen (16) days for a total of fourteen (14) to (21) days.”
REGIONAL RESPONSES TO US AIR TRAVEL
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not the only country faced with making a decision regarding spike in cases due to the resumption of US-Caribbean flights.
Barbados Today reported on July 18, that the Barbadian Government’s sudden decision to cancel flights from the US is not sitting well with some Barbadians who were hoping to return home.
It said, however, Head of Global Markets at the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) Petra Roach defended Government’s position, saying the rising cases of COVID-19 in the US was of great concern.
Roach said JetBlue was informed on Monday about the cancellations following “long and intense” discussions.
She maintained that the safety of Barbadians was of utmost importance as they sought to prevent a re-importation of the virus, pointing out that Government’s decisions were driven by data and not dates.
In The Bahamas, a tourist hot spot, the COVID-19 situation has worsened since the reopening of borders to US tourists, and the country has had to take drastic action.
The rollback comes three weeks after the Bahamas reopened its borders to travelers.
The situation in the Bahamas has deteriorated “at an exponential rate since we reopened our international borders” on July 1, Minnis said. The country’s Ministry of Health reported 49 new cases since borders fully opened, for a total of 153 cases.
Other countries, however, have been coping with the situation.
For instance, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have continued receiving US-based flights.
Extra-regional responses to the US
Outside of the Caribbean, groupings in other regions have announced actions regarding the US.
The New York Times said in a June 24 report that “the European Union is planning to bar most Americans even as it welcomes travelers from more than a dozen other countries next week”.
The report said that the move was expected to deal a huge blow to airlines such as Delta that were hoping to revive their business as travel across the Atlantic Ocean typically peaks.
International flights make up a minority of flights for U.S. airlines but are typically much more profitable than domestic ones.
The situation in the US, specifically Florida
At press time, there were over 3.83 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the USA and 143,000 deaths.
In the state of Florida, there were 350,000 confirmed cases, with 4,981 deaths.
The state has seen bouts of sharp increases in the number of cases recorded each day since June 13. As many as 15,300 cases were recorded on July 15 alone, with numbers reaching over 10,000 new cases per day, for almost every day since July 4.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines may have little choice but to negotiate an amicable deal with American Airlines on flights suspension. It must tread very carefully throughout the process.
What are your thoughts?