THE PRIME Minister’s timeline for the possible reopening of the borders in the coming weeks is a heartening sign that we are now at a different phase of the pandemic.
It must be hoped that the Government is carefully considering the timing of the intricate and numerous steps involved, given outstanding issues surrounding vaccination.
Dr Rowley’s thinking with regard to this issue may be predicated on the assumption that higher vaccination rates among international travellers offer a degree of safety not existent before.
“As we vaccinate, and as vaccination has been accelerated in North America in particular, the situation is different now,” the PM said on Saturday. “The populations of North America and the Caribbean can now more easily mix, and we are better able to manage people coming into the country.”
But though vaccination is proven to substantially reduce the risk of covid19 infection, there is disagreement among scientists as to whether a fully vaccinated person can nonetheless be a carrier and infect others.
Vaccination – both at home and abroad – is of course not a licence to throw out all other controls. The experiences of countries like the UK show how all it takes is the entry of one highly infectious variant such as the Delta (formerly called the Indian) variant to threaten progress – and a far smaller proportion of our population is vaccinated than is the case in the UK.
The Government must consider the fact that locals, too, may take advantage of open borders to go on overseas shopping sprees or vacation trips the minute commercial flights resume.
There is hence a need for a clear regime of rules to be put in place, explained and disseminated to sort who will be allowed access and who will not, well in advance.
Such an exercise risks distracting from what must be the priority now: achieving herd immunity. In this regard, it could be worth considering whether reopening the borders should be tied to criteria that will encourage more people to get jabbed. For instance, it has been suggested the State could grant free movement only to fully vaccinated people.
Trying to do too many things at once may unnecessarily confuse the population by sending mixed signals. That is exactly what transpired on Saturday, when Dr Rowley extended curfew hours while also announcing a possible reopening sooner than many expected.
Achieving a high vaccination rate in the population should be a precondition before borders are reopened.
With this in mind, the State should continue collaborating with the private sector in running mass vaccination events such as Sunday’s pilot project at the Divali Nagar site, which saw more than 2,500 first jabs given in one day.
But bigger figures than that will have to be sustained over a period of months. The numbers need to be pushed far higher – and vaccine hesitancy aggressively addressed – before we are cleared for take-off.