The 2020-21 Winter Tourist Season opened this week with players in the Public Sector getting a clear mandate from Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley on what must be done to protect the health of Barbadians and visitors from COVID-19.
This occurred during a series of meetings at Ilaro Court in recent weeks involving officials from tourism agencies, Immigration Department, ports of entry, the health sector and other key departments of Government, in which the island’s performance in the COVID-19 fight so far, as well as potential challenges that could arise from the increase in visitors that started this month.
The meeting examined the current stock of testing supplies in possession of the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ storage, and decided on the expanded volume the country would now keep in storage to be able to respond to the increased activity that will be occasioned by the increase in flights.
Officials at the Grantley Adams International Airport and the Immigration Department were also directed to make maximum use of digital processing procedures in order to minimize the physical handling of passports and other documents that have the potential to spread the virus.
The Prime Minister also mandated the Ministry of Health to ramp back up its communications and public relations programmes to ensure that Barbadians do not slip into a state of complacency, given the country’s success so far in preventing any community spread of the virus.
Notwithstanding the repeated letters of commendation Government has received from Barbadians and visitors, who contracted COVID-19 and found themselves in mandatory isolation at the Harrison Point facility or those who were restricted to other public quarantine centres, the meetings agreed on the implementation of additional measures to improve their customer service experience. These include enhanced meal menus and improved leisure facilities.
A considerable amount of discussion also centred on the acquisition and administering of COVID-19 vaccines. The meeting was informed that United States authorities had already been engaged, that the island would leverage its association with the Pan-African drugs purchasing platform, that arrangements were already in place with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) to acquire 20 per cent of the country’s needs, that through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Chinese, Russian and Indian vaccine possibilities were being examined.
The meeting also agreed that research being conducted by Cuba would also be monitored.
The meetings also received an update on the Welcome Stamp initiative from officials at BTMI and Immigration, and agreed on steps to reinvigorate it, as well as resolve some of the procedural and banking-related challenges experienced by some early participants.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mottley has insisted that while the focus would remain on keeping COVID-19 at bay, other major initiatives to protect the health of Barbadians could no longer be relegated to the back seat, given the potential for a surge in chronic non-communicable diseases in the interim.
Consequently, the Ministry of Health and Wellness was instructed to immediately fill all vacancies for community health workers, to put in place a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Elder Affairs to expand and speed up the process of assessing more people seeking institutional care and providing an updated report on the status of the initiative to construct a new fit-for-purpose geriatric care hospital.
Officials were also instructed to press ahead with plans to expand telemedicine services at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.