Both Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday support a common regional policy on national borders across the OECS and CARICOM in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking at a recent press conference, Gonsalves said that the heads of government meetings of CARICOM and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States in April discussed a resumption “to normalcy or a new normalcy” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“… there was an agreement in principle with the OECS heads that we should, as far as practicable, coordinate, knowing that there are differences between each country and each extant condition,” the prime minister said.
He said there was no coordination during the earlier stage of the pandemic when some countries decided to close airports, seaports, impose curfews, or states of emergency.
“… in some cases, there was no information in advance shared; some cases you will get and other cases, … I got the information after the deed was done,” he said.
Gonsalves said that after their talks, there was “an agreement and a determination to coordinate as far as practicable”.
Using the tourism sector as an example, the prime minister said:
“If you’re going to open hotels, it makes sense for the various countries to try and coordinate as best as possible because you’d have to link with airlines — those which are coming out particularly from the main source markets.”
He said that in his March 25 address, he had told Vincentians that the nation is faced with a monumental challenge with four interconnected dimensions: health, economic, social, and security.
“I didn’t intend when I said that, for health, economic, social and security to become an acronym. I noticed that the OECS Authority has it and call it the HESS dimensions of the monumental challenge, health, economic, social, and security. But you will notice that all of these dimensions, more and more governments have been talking about the need for greater coordination.”
He said that Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness had since told his parliament about “the conspiracy of chaos being taken advantage of — or the criminals involved in a conspiracy of chaos.
“Now, there is a slower realization by many persons of the security dimensions, but it is real for those of us who are in the business and have been around for a long time. I knew that that was going to be something which is going to emerge very seriously,” Gonsalves said.
And, last week, Friday, in a Facebook Live programme organised by his New Democratic Party, said it is “unfortunate” that within the OECS and CARICOM there was no common policy in response to the pandemic.
He noted that the OECS is one economic space, adding, “So you would think that in something as critical as this, that we would have a unified policy to say, ‘Well, okay, guys, let’s shut the borders down. This is how we’re going to try and cope in the short term and how we make the adjustment for the long term.”
He said that he did not know to which prime minister the Trinidad and Tobago Minister of National Security had written, expressing concern about that country being used as a jumping off point for entrance to Trinidad, whose borders are closed.
“… but certainly they are entitled to take measures to secure their borders to protect their citizens from what they think is justified in circumstances,” Friday said, adding that he did not think that the measures in Trinidad and Tobago were an overreaction.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados are among the CARICOM states that have not closed their borders in response to the pandemic.
Friday said he did not think the reaction by Port of Spain was an overreaction “because we can see when you bet against the virus… you lose and you lose with disastrous consequences.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, our borders are open and I tell you, it’s creating concern among people”.
Friday said persons who work in the yachting sector in his Northern Grenadine constituency have been expressing concern about yachts docking in Bequia, an island in the constituency.
“… they will see what’s coming into the harbour still and … they wonder, well, where did they check in. The presumption is that they, since the only three ports that are open are Kingstown, Blue Lagoon and Wallilabou, that they checked in at some point along the way before coming by.
“Then who ensures quarantine of those people? You know, if you come, you enter the country through one of the ports of entry on the mainland, and then you can go anywhere in the country, who then enforces the quarantine? And these are some of the serious concerns that people are expressing.”
He said that COVID-19 is not going away.
“… and we are not out of the woods, we are not, by any means, past the worst of it. We are simply having to take the measures that are necessary to protect and closing our borders is still one of them,” Friday said.