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CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders have taken a major step towards resuscitating the COVID-19 challenged travel and tourism sectors, with agreement to institute a travel bubble among member and associated members states, according to a statement issued by the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat.

It said that the regional leaders took the decision during a special emergency session last Friday “at which they acknowledged that the past six months have been a very challenging period globally and regionally, as countries have struggled to cope with the effects of the novel coronavirus”.

The leaders agreed that the bubble would come into effect from Friday, September 18, once the countries involved meet the agreed criteria.

According to the Secretariat statement, the regional leaders have noted that for CARICOM, it has been particularly difficult given the high dependence in most of the economies on the travel and tourism sectors.

“In agreeing to establish the bubble, the Heads were guided by a comprehensive report from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), which provided recommendations on how the bubble would operate, and laid out the eligibility criteria for countries to participate.”

The statement said that the recommendations included that countries would be categorised ranging from those with no cases to those which had low, medium, high and very high risk with respect to the rate of positive cases over a 14-day period.

It said that the level of risk would be determined by the amount of positive cases per 100,000 of the population within a 14-day period and “only those countries with no cases and those in the low-risk category would be allowed to participate in the bubble; and CARPHA will assess relevant data to advise on participation in the bubble”.

The statement said that regional leaders also agreed that travellers from countries within the bubble would be allowed entry without being subjected to PCR testing prior to arrival and would also not have to undergo quarantine restrictions. Travellers may however be subjected to screening on arrival.

“It was agreed that initially, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines will be in the bubble as they presently meet the criteria. Other member states and associate members will be allowed to participate when they meet the criteria,” the statement noted.

Almost every CARICOM country has reported positive cases and deaths associated with the virus that was first detected in China last December and blamed for 936,000 deaths and the infection of 29.6 million others worldwide.

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