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Gov’t subsidises COVID-19 PCR tests to remain competitive on the tourism market

Health Minister Nickolas Steele - introduced the amendment to the Quarantine Act in Parliament

The Lower House of Parliament has approved an amendment to the Quarantine Act to change the cost of the COVID-19 PCR test from US$150.00 or EC$405.00, to US$50.00 or EC$135.00, as government moves to relieve some financial burdens on travelers desirous of coming to the island, and to promote a strong recovery of the tourism sector amid the global pandemic.

The amendment to the law was made in Parliament by Health Minister Nickolas Steele who has been at the forefront of Grenada’s response to the deadly coronavirus affecting the island for the past 19 months.

“We have found a way and means, and we are going to subsidise as best as possible (the Covid-19 test price). It comes at the expense of something else but we truly do believe that at this point it is a balance that we can maintain,” the senior government minister told the Lower House Tuesday while presenting the Quarantine COVID-19 amendment regulation 2021 for debate during a special sitting at Mt Wheldale.

The amendment, comes amidst allegations in some quarters that the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government was using the high costing PCR tests to rake in money for the Treasury.

One (1) month ago, Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen had announced the one-third reduction in the PCR fee structure to come into effect on October 5.

The female minister who acknowledged the need to amend the cost of the PCR test during Tuesday’s special sitting alluded to the challenges visitors and returning nationals face in meeting the exorbitant price, an issue, which she said made the island “uncompetitive” on the tourism market compared to other countries.

“When we did an investigation as to what the other countries were doing, we came out dismally uncompetitive in that regard because we were pretty much the highest,” she said, adding that “most of our neighbouring countries either did it free of cost or at a minimal charge…”

“People look at these things,” she added.

The senior female government minister pointed to surveys which show that “the level of safety” is also among other measures considered by travellers, as she reflected on the fact that “Grenada was ranked (by the United States Center for Disease Control CDC) as one of the countries having the highest infection rates not just in the Caribbean (but) in the world” during a serious spike in Covid-19 cases in late August and into September.

She explained that the CDC, which advises travellers on where to travel based on the risk factor “also looked at what precaution countries take…and what precautions people who coming to the countries are required to follow.”

This, she said means that “there must be precautions for our nation (and) all of us must adhere to certain precautions” such as mask-wearing etcetera, which “will contribute to the reduction and transmission of the coronavirus” because “tourism, whether we like it or not contributes significantly to this country.”

The Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister also defended the government’s vaccine mandate over the tourism and hospitality sector, expressing the view that it’s “not an issue of vaccine mandates…but one of “reciprocity,” which is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organisation to another.

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She stressed that while citizens can come into Grenada regardless of their vaccination status, visitors on the other hand must be fully vaccinated, and present a negative PCR test upon arrival.

“So, even when you have some level of quarantine and restraint people appreciate that when they are coming to the country because they believe that they would be safe, and therefore when we say to visitors that they must be fully vaccinated, they are asking us what are you telling the people in the industry…what would be their status of vaccination. So, if you are making that demand, and quite rightly so, then our people have to be vaccinated,” the Tourism Minister explained.

In delivering her Tourism Month Speech on Tuesday, Minister Modeste-Curwen pointed to the global challenge of vaccine hesitancy as the world reopens gradually, noting that “the vaccines provide an opportunity to promote the agenda of inclusive sustainable growth and advance our and the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) agenda to ensure a return of Caribbean tourism.”

She urged tourism stakeholders to “not just think about tourism as visitors or numbers to our destination but rather as a distinctive opportunity to collaborate, partner, and diversify across industries and sectors, to make certain that our economy grows, and that no one is left behind.”

The minister was optimistic about the industry, which has already begun to see the arrival of additional flights, and is confident about the “return of the cruise lines to our shores in the very near future.”

In delivering the traditional Thorne Speech in Parliament last month, Governor-General Dame Cecile La Grenade pointed to the preparation of a National Sustainable Tourism Development Plan under the World Bank-funded Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Tourism Competitiveness project “to guide the implementation of policies, programmes, and projects in the sector over the next five (5) to eight (8) years.”

It is understood that an Italy-based multidisciplinary consulting company called Keios will be providing planning, design, and technical assistance services in the fields of urban development has been shortlisted by the OECS Tourism Competitiveness project to engage in consultancy primarily to undertake the preparation of a ‘national sustainable tourism development plan’ for the tri-island state.

The regional project will review the country’s tourism industry and its interactions with other bodies, and also focus on the analysis of critical issues such as the post-COVID 19 tourism era, the blue economy, climate change, the new tourism trends to prepare the national sustainable tourism plan, and the road map for its implementation.

The project is geared at ensuring the industry’s sustainability, and is expected to be integrated within the National Sustainable Development Plan 2020-2035.

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