AFTER more than a year, restrictions that severely limited the ability of travellers to enter or leave the country are being lifted today. But it’s hardly a case of being home free.
There are still stringent rules in place, including a requirement for a travel pass issued through a new online system that will be put to the test from today.
Only vaccinated non-nationals, along with vaccinated and unvaccinated nationals, are allowed in. All unvaccinated nationals must enter through Trinidad, not Tobago, and are subject to state quarantine on arrival.
That we should dial back our expectations of an immediate return to pre-2020 conditions is underlined by the fact that the country remains in a state of emergency.
Some sectors will reopen next week, but much business remains shuttered. Beaches are closed. Public spaces are subject to heavy regulation. These are hardly conditions that will invite throngs of tourists to the country.
The pandemic is still in full sway. On Friday, a dire alert was issued by 1,200 international scientific experts in the Lancet medical journal who warned that England’s plan to abandon covid19 restrictions next Monday poses a dangerous threat to the rest of the world, given the UK’s status as an international travel hub. This is notwithstanding airport controls.
English officials have calculated the high vaccine pick-up rate in that country will lessen the blow of an ongoing surge. But new cases per day have spiked dramatically – they are on par with rates seen at the most dangerous point of the pandemic – raising concerns that England's “Freedom Day” gamble will not pay off.
Locally, there are encouraging signs that we might be closing in on the moment when the economy can reopen more or less fully. Deaths and infections have abated, though they are still substantial enough to be of concern.
The long lines on Thursday outside vaccination centres taking in food-sector workers confirmed the appetite for the jab remains robust.
The Government must not squander this enthusiasm. In addition to ensuring the systems put in place to manage the border work well, the State’s expansion of vaccination sites must also be done efficiently.
Hopefully, lessons have been learned from the mistakes of previous weeks, when elderly people who sought jabs were subjected to the frustration and discouragement of long lines and unsheltered premises.
Even before the arrival of 800,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses this week, the Government had earmarked at least six new mass inoculation sites and issued calls for volunteers to assist in manning them. Whether these measures will be enough will depend on how well the demand holds up and on the State’s ability to continue effective partnership with private-sector stakeholders.
In the end, as symbolic as today is, that is no licence for the population to break ’way. It’s not yet our Independence Day.