The curse of Covid-19 has touched the Caribbean relatively lightly, with the exception of the Spanish-speaking countries. Small island nations are able to control entry points such as airports and so prevent new infections being imported. That’s in stark contrast to the UK, which allowed 18 million people to land at its airports without any health checks. Other positive contributions have been swift action in imposing lockdowns and curfews (aka shelter-in-place orders), strong public health messages on local media and, in some countries, comprehensive testing for the virus.
Against that, the islands are likely to suffer severe shocks to their tourism-dependent economies and will have to make some difficult choices about the balance between protecting health and getting businesses, travel and employment on track again.
Here we summarise the latest news from around the region.
Anguilla had only three Covid-19 cases, none of which are active. It’s lifted most restrictions, allowing places of worship, retail stores, hair salons and barbers, gyms, restaurants and bars to reopen. Ports remain closed for passenger ships but some flights bringing Anguillans back home are expected to arrive soon.
Antigua & Barbuda lost three of its citizens to the virus from a total of 25 cases. Prime Minister Gaston Brown said recently that the curfew is likely to be lifted for most activities – except fetes, bars and nightclubs – on 15 May. Mask-wearing has been made mandatory and the PM emphasised the need for vigilance against the virus being brought back to the island on cargo ships.
Bahamas has lost 11 people to coronavirus so far, from 89 cases. The borders were closed on 27 March, but six Americans broke the rules by disembarking from an aircraft bringing in vital Covid-19 test kits. As the Americans went into quarantine, the health minister, Dr Duane Sands, resigned after acknowledging that his actions (in allowing the men to disembark) had “caused great embarrassment”.
Barbados currently has 28 people in isolation, 47 have recovered and seven have died from its total of 82 cases. From Monday, beaches have been open for three hours every morning, but, according to lifeguards, people are not distancing: “They were back to normal, meeting and hugging. They were making a good situation bad.” Though the island is under an 8pm to 5am curfew, which runs to 17 May, many businesses are open – including sugar factories, IT sales and service, hotels, villas, pet shops and dry cleaners. Today, Caribbean Airlines reopened its Bridgetown office, on weekday mornings only.
Bermuda counted seven deaths from its 115 cases. Its shelter-in-place restrictions ended on 2 May, but schools and government offices remain closed.
Cayman Islands today confirmed three new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 78. Of these, 30 have recovered and only two are in hospital. On Monday 4 May the ‘hard lockdown’ on Little Cayman ended and some restrictions on businesses were eased, though opening hours are still limited.
Grenada, which reported 13 recoveries from 21 cases, has announced the cancellation of its carnival, Spicemas, which was due to conclude on 11 August. The curfew will remain in place until 12 May and all beaches are closed. An unusual feature of the lockdown is that Grenadians are allowed out only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for shopping, conducting essential business and 90 minutes of exercise a day between 5am and 6pm.
Guyana, with 93 cases and 10 deaths, is one of the Caribbean countries more heavily affected by the pandemic. Despite a night-time curfew and the closure of non-essential businesses, night clubs, schools and sports facilities, the Guyanese are still “congregating, playing dominos and having a few beers on the corner”, according to public health minister Volda Lawrence. Addressing the country on TV last week, she added: “It’s obvious that you are not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.”
Jamaica has one of the highest Covid-19 caseloads in the Caribbean: 473 people confirmed with the disease and nine deaths. The country’s 12-hour curfew has been extended to 13 May and schools won’t reopen until September. More than 2,000 Jamaican crew members are stranded on cruise ships around the world and government is negotiating with the ships’ owners to get them home. Today, 115 Jamaicans were repatriated from the UK and will start their quarantine on home soil.
Martinique, which has had 182 cases and 14 deaths, now has only a single person in hospital with coronavirus.
Montserrat, with 11 cases and one death, is taking a cautious approach. Deputy PM Dr Samuel Joseph said there are no immediate plans to lift restrictions, which include a 7pm to 5am curfew. “One of the advantages that Montserrat has is that we aren’t that tourist-dependent, so we don’t have the economic pressure to try to generate money by reopening our borders. We can afford to be more cautious,” he said.
St Eustatius has reported only two cases, both of whom have recovered. Statia has, however, cancelled its carnival, which was to have taken place at the end of July. “There will be more opportunities in the future to celebrate carnival,” Government Commissioner Marnix van Rij assured disappointed revellers.
St Kitts & Nevis has avoided any Covid-19 funerals and registered just 15 cases to date. Social distancing and wearing face masks are mandatory. At the end of April, Jasmin Weekes of the country’s Trade Ministry said the virus opened up opportunities for canny manufacturers: “We believe that the wearing of masks can very well be the norm for us going forward and can therefore be a viable business venture.” Distillers have also turned from making rum to producing hand sanitiser, she said.
St Lucia has just three active cases out of 18 recorded so far and no deaths on the island; however 29 St Lucians abroad have succumbed to the virus. The state of emergency has been extended to 31 May and a curfew is in force from 7pm to 5am. No international flights are operating into St Lucia and only essential businesses are open. Like Jamaica, St Lucia has been trying to help its nationals working on cruise ships return home. Carnival Glory and Caribbean Princess will dock at Castries on Friday, allowing 219 St Lucian crew members to disembark under strict conditions before they enter quarantine.
Saint Martin, the French half of the twin-state island, registered 38 cases (half the number of its Dutch neighbour), 30 recoveries and two deaths from Covid-19. From Friday 8 May beaches will reopen, but only for swimming and walking – definitely no barbecues, picnics or large gatherings. Next week, some tourism-related businesses may be able to reopen.
Sint Maarten, the Dutch portion of the island, has reported 76 cases, and its tally of 13 deaths is one of the highest in the Caribbean, but on the positive side there have been no new cases for five days. The island is desperate to get its tourism industry working by June and is expected to allow a gradual relaxation of restrictions.
St Vincent & the Grenadines saw its case total rise to 17 on 3 May, following its first confirmed Covid-19 positive on 21 April. Nine people have recovered so far.
Trinidad & Tobago has had 116 Covid-19 infections and lost eight of citizens, but only one person remains in intensive care, in Couva Hospital. The big danger now, said health minister Terrence Deyalsingh, is complacency. “The fires of Covid-19 still rage around us, in our back yard. The fires we have doused here in Trinidad and Tobago could reignite at any point in time and move us from sporadic to clusters,” he warned. Nevertheless, the country’s economy is in a reasonable state to weather the coronavirus storm, according to The Economist.
Turks & Caicos has had a modest 12 cases and one death to report and on Monday began its phased reopening programme. While the 8pm-5am curfew will remain in place until 25 May, beaches have reopened, as have grocery and hardware stores, “self-sustaining fishermen” can now return to work and from 10 May church services are allowed – but with attendance limited to 10 people. From 11 May restaurants can serve takeaway meals and “essential public service and other public sector bodies” will reopen. Airports and seaports remain closed, although inter-island ferries can operate.