The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has taken issue with a decision by the United States to issue a new travel warning for the sub-region even as the countries seek to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The U.S. State Department announced that it would be updating its travel advisory list in alliance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose unprecedented risks to travelers. In light of those risks, the Department of State strongly recommends U.S. citizens reconsider all travel abroad,” the State Dept. said in its update.
The OECS said that Washington has raised its travel advisory from Level 3 to Level 4 for the sub-region noting that the pandemic has resulted in 146 million cases and three million deaths worldwide.
“Like with other hardships, the most vulnerable seem to be the hardest hit. The disease has not affected persons or places equally, with some places having as much as 10 times the case fatality rates of others due to inequalities in baseline population health and the ability to manage severe COVID-19.
“While we have been able to manage the pandemic in the OECS with case fatality rates and cases per population rates lower than the global average, we continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic fallout of COVID, due to our highly tourism-dependent economies,” the OECS Commission said in a statement.
The OECS said that this is further compounded by the inequitable distribution of vaccines globally. “While the United States boasts that 60 percent of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, in the Eastern Caribbean we have only been able to cover about 22 percent of the eligible population with the first dose.
“The greatest limiting factor is the availability of vaccines. This is ironic given the size of our populations, and the relatively small numbers needed to reach population immunity. Without this coverage, it is difficult to be able to facilitate entry and exit requirements that facilitate the ability of the US government to assist in an emergency, including COVID-19 related restrictions on entry by US and other foreign nationals.”
The sub-regional grouping said that the United States has the power to make available the vaccines that can easily cover its populations with surpluses that for now are not even being used within the US.
“The OECS member states are willing to lead in reducing requirements to travel while the world learns the impact of these vaccines, once we are able to vaccinate a significant proportion of our population as recommended by global health experts.”
The OECS said that the Eastern Caribbean and Southern coast of the United States are economically tied through the cruise, travel and tourism industries and share the desire to see our economies recover.
“This is why the recent travel advisory update for Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines is especially concerning. In St. Lucia, for example, cases are decreasing and testing is increasing (the main criteria used for assessment by the CDC), however, the level has gone from level 3 to level 4.
“As St. Vincent and the Grenadines is experiencing an ongoing eruption of the La Soufriere volcano, and as the Caribbean faces another upcoming and uncertain hurricane season, our ability to deal with COVID-19 will be mutually impacted.
“The OECS is looking to the US as a part of the southern border to partner with us in the fight against and in ensuring that our region becomes fully vaccinated against this disease. COVID-19 has shown that it knows no boundaries, so if we are going to beat COVID, we need to do it together,” the statement added.