(Iwnsvg.com) – Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Saturday encouraged, intra-regional travel as a means of dampening the impact of COVID-19 on CARICOM economies.

The virus, which has resulted in over 4,000 deaths internationally, has been confirmed in a number of CARICOM nations, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and St. Lucia, Jamaica, most of which have been imported cases.

At the same time some counties are discouraging travel, with the United States banning flights from Europe for 28 days, and several cruise line and air carriers have announced suspension of service to several destinations.   

Gonsalves, in his National Heroes’ Day address from the Obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill, on Saturday, said: “… look, we have to think creatively in relation to how we are going to sustain our economy…

“Services are important; tourism services. Yachts will come and planes will come. We are strengthening the security for the yachts, the surveillance and the management from a health standpoint,” he said.

The prime minister noted that persons departing SVG by air have to pay a US$40 departure tax.

He said he was waiting for the numbers from the Ministry of Finance to see how much revenue the country would lose if it reduces the departure tax by 50% for a period not exceeding six months.

“And I would do so because I want — I’ve spoken to some CARICOM heads. We have to encourage — if the Americans saying they’re not encouraging people to travel and the Europeans say they not encouraging people to travel, in the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) we have 650,000 persons, Trinidad is 1.3 [million], Barbados is 300,000… -and then there is Guyana with 700,000. We can have a market in this part in the southern and eastern Caribbean.”

The prime minister said he had spoken with head of the SVG Tourism Authority, Glen Beache and also with the president of the SVG hotels association, suggesting that they offer specials on accommodation.

Gonsalves said that the reduced departure tax will only apply to CARICOM passport holders traveling within CARICOM.

“If you’re traveling outside, you’ll still have to pay the same extent of the tax,” he said.

The prime minister added:

“The extent by which I will reduce it will depend when I see the final numbers when they are run. And I’m hoping to get that Monday morning.

“You notice what I’m trying to do to see if we can still keep some hotel trade within the region and also some yachting business. You can’t lock yourself off from the world. We have to take reasonable steps.

“You may say, Well, what about people coming in with COVID-19 from the region? Well, thus far we haven’t had community transmission. We haven’t had local transmission. We have had people come in from outside and they’re either being quarantined or isolated. So we’ll do that and manage it and look at it carefully on an on-going basis.