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Stakeholders call for more testing, tracing ahead of domestic tourism reopening

Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) Carla Chandra

As Guyana looks towards gradually reopening sectors of its economy, particularly tourism, stakeholders in that industry are calling for more testing and tracing to be done aimed at improving consumer confidence and containing the spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19).

Newly-appointed Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) Carla James- Chandra told the third Tourism Recovery Action Committee (TRAC) meeting held virtually on Thursday that if the reopening of domestic travel is to be implemented soon, then certain grey areas will first have to be addressed.

“If we are looking at reopening domestic travel, we need to up our testing and contact tracing…I do believe that in opening up our economy to domestic travel, we will have to do a better job at tracing where people are travelling from, interacting with etc,” she told the stakeholder engagement.

The multi-agency TRAC meets regularly to discuss ways to improve the declining tourism industry which has suffered millions in losses largely due to travel restrictions resulting from the measures in place to contain COVID-19.

Mrs. James-Chandra was also interested in whether there are any systems in place for visitors both locally and overseas to track their symptoms, electronically. It was noted that there is a COVID-19 tracking system on the Public Health Ministry website, where persons can enter their symptoms and do an assessment electronically to see if they have contracted the coronavirus.

Asked whether there will be systems in place to test domestic travellers for the virus, Mrs. James-Chandra was told by the Principal Environmental Health Officer of the Public Health Ministry Abigail Liverpool that the temperature of every person will be taken upon arrival at ports, and they will be questioned on whether they have any symptoms.

President of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana, Mitra Ramcoomar.

“Those are some of the things that are already in place. But moving forward at the policy level, the Ministry will definitely be looking at the testing. That is being done internationally at the moment, because establishing the case definition allows you to know who your suspected cases are,”  Ms. Liverpool explained.

Meanwhile, President of the Guyana Tourism and Hospitality Association (THAG) Mitra Ramkumar asked whether there were any systems being put in place by the ministry that would cater for medical evacuations and any such emergencies related to the coronavirus for travellers in the interior.

The Public Health Ministry official noted during the discussion that every case of COVID-19 will be dealt with by the regional level and in cases where there is an overwhelming capacity, then the hinterland coordinator will make arrangements to have an infected person who might be critical, evacuated. At present, flights leave the Rupununi, a major ecotourism destination for Guyana, once per week.

Another tourism official shared a case where one of her employees who has symptoms of COVID-19, but was denied testing and as a result she had to revert to setting up an appointment for him to be tested at a private institution instead.

“We are trying to establish protocols so that we can reopen safely for tourism. If I can’t get a staff tested, how am I going to assure tourists that this is a safe destination to come to…with over 3000 testing done to date, is there a plan for increased testing and do we have enough kits?” she questioned.

Principal Environmental Health Officer of the Public Health Ministry Abigail Liverpool

Liverpool was quick to state that testing is done on an assessment basis, while explaining that private testing is also available. She could not say whether the government is purchasing testing kits elsewhere, aside from those currently being acquired from the Pan American Health Organisation/ World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

Restoring traveller confidence and stimulating demand with new safe and clean labels for the sector and domestic tourism promotion campaigns are being actively considered by the team of stakeholders that include the Department of Tourism, the Guyana Tourism Authority, the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana and the Small Business Bureau.

The committee is focusing its work upon a wide range of impact areas as it seeks to nurture the tourism sector back to full recovery and will be assisted by a number of specialist, advisory sub-committees.

With sustained engagement with local and international stakeholders, the committee hopes to tap into a wide pool of best practices and recovery intelligence in order to jump-start tourism business in Guyana safely and in phases.