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Despite the number of confirmed cases of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) increasing to 17 yesterday, the Barbados Government is keeping its borders open but ending commercial flights.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds said yesterday that Government is putting steps in place to ensure the country maintains air connectivity, so it can continue to import commodities such as food, medical supplies and equipment.
He said that rather than join the queue of countries requesting chartered flights, Government was negotiating with airlines to provide at least a once-a-week service from major gateways.
During yesterday’s press conference, Symmonds outlined plans for maintaining international access.
Barbados will continue to get Air Canada flights from Toronto until the airline halts global operations by next Tuesday, March 31. The Montreal to Barbados flight was suspended on Saturday.
Government will engage in discussions with Air Canada to provide a weekly flight from Toronto to Barbados to maintain connectivity and import supplies, Symmonds said.
West Jet ceased its worldwide operations on Saturday and when and if they recommence is a wait and see matter.
Flights to and from Europe, which has been severely impacted by COVID-19, are also affected.
Lufthansa’s Eurowings, which was originally scheduled to end its winter contract in mid-April, suspends operations today.
Condor has suspended operations indefinitely and Symmonds said discussions to recommence service will take place when conditions are favourable in Europe and Barbados.
Both airlines will focus on repatriation of passengers and citizens, who are mainly from Germany and other European countries.
Virgin Atlantic is suspending service from today. Repatriation flights began on Saturday, and the Tourism Minister said British Airways has a cooperative arrangement with Barbados and Virgin Atlantic to repatriate persons who were unable to get a Virgin Atlantic flight.
British Airways will continue to fly to Barbados until Thursday, and Government will meet with BA officials today to discuss the possibility of maintaining a once weekly flight between the UK and the island to freight medical supplies, food and other items into the island.
Minister Symmonds said British Airways indicated it would recommence service to Barbados on April 16.
American Airlines has suspended operations for three days, beginning yesterday. It flights will resume on Thursday with two weekly flights from Miami to Barbados and one weekly flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Barbados, until April 1.
JetBlue suspended operations into Barbados on Saturday, but will provide a direct flight on Saturdays from New York for an indefinite period of time, and this could increase to twice weekly based on demand.
Symmonds said these measures ensure Barbados is not “cut off from access” to the US market. They also facilitate the repatriation of passengers; the return of Barbadians to the island and will allow the country to benefit from access to vital supplies, such as pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.
As for regional flights, Symmonds said the situation with LIAT is fluid as Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states continue to make decisions regarding border closures.
LIAT’s board indicated that reduced and revised schedules should be maintained where possible. One of the reasons for this, the Minister said, was to facilitate various forms of assistance from Barbados to CARICOM member states.
Since Trinidad and Tobago has implemented adjustments to its borders, discussions will need to take place with Caribbean Airlines.
Air Antilles from today suspends service indefinitely, until circumstances improve.
The Tourism Minister expressed gratitude to the airlines.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the travel trade partners for their cooperation, especially those legacy carriers, which have gone above and beyond the call of duty in an effort to meet us halfway in order to ensure that the island itself is not cut off from the international community because, as you know, there is really no way of Barbados provisioning itself,” he said.
The number of COVID-19 cases increased by three yesterday. All three – two men and a woman – all arrived from the United Kingdom. One is the partner of a visitor who tested positive the previous day.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anton Best reported that the latest three had all been placed in isolation, and were so far displaying only mild symptoms.
Tests done on 14 other people were returned negative.
Meanwhile, three people are quarantined in a medical facility at the Barbados Defence Force base at Paragon.
As a result of aggressive contact tracing being conducted daily, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has reported that numerous others are in self quarantine, being monitored by public health officers