By Staff Writer
This week’s wrangle between the ruling PACT coalition and the opposition Progressives/Alliance over reopening the borders continued on Thursday.
“I thank the Government for finally addressing the country on their plans regarding reopening our borders to tourism. It has been some two months since PACT took office, and it should not have required a press conference by the Opposition to prompt them to address the country on this critical issue,” Progressives leader Roy McTaggart wrote in a press release on Thursday.
It came one day after the government rebuffed a call by the Opposition made on Tuesday for a September 1st target to reopen the borders, especially for tourism.
Premier Wayne Panton said in a government press conference on Wednesday that his administration was working towards a vaccination target of between 70 and 80 per cent.
“When we were in Government, and now as Opposition, we have consistently said that the key to reopening the borders safely is to get between 75% - 80% of our people vaccinated. So, we do not disagree with the current Government on this point,” Mr McTaggart said.
The Premier had also the previous administration of not having a reopening plan and maintained that nothing was left in place for his government.
SIGHTS ON SEPTEMBER
Opposition Leader McTaggart insists that current vaccination trends support their call for a September 1st reopening.
“However, we believe that we are sufficiently close to getting 75% of our people fully vaccinated that the Government can and indeed should announce a firm reopening date. We remain of the view that the date should be September 1. This will give businesses a date to gear up to welcome tourists back and will also spur unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated.”
He said: “Without a firm reopening date by September, we will likely lose the winter season as potential visitors will seek alternative destinations for their holidays. Indeed, there are already indications that it is happening.”
According to Mr McTaggart, while his team was in power across the first year of the pandemic, their focus was on ‘lives before livelihoods’, but he maintains that at this juncture, the economic implication cannot be overlooked.
“As everyone will know from our track record in Government, we are deeply conscious about the importance of re-opening the borders safely, and in all our decisions, we put lives before livelihoods and people above profits. But we firmly believe that with a concerted effort, we can get the number of vaccinated residents up to 75%, which is certainly achievable by September 1st even using the revised population estimate of 71,100 people.
“Reaching these numbers of vaccinated residents allows us to safely re-open and enable visitors who have been vaccinated to enter without the need to quarantine.”
Another point of contention between the Opposition and the government is the new arrivals and quarantine protocols which the PACT administration is introducing from next Wednesday.
Mr McTaggart decried the plan as “downright dangerous”.
Premier Panton had announced at the government press conference on Wednesday this week that “the quarantine is being reduced to five days for incoming travellers who have completed an approved course of vaccination against COVID-19.”
Mr McTaggart questioned the logic of that approach before reaching at least a 75 per cent vaccination rate, saying they considered it while in government but ruled it out.
“We believe this is downright dangerous as we have seen travellers test positive for Covid-19 after 15 or longer days in quarantine. When in Government, we considered this as an option and ruled it out because we did not believe it prudent or safe until we had sufficient numbers of people vaccinated. I hope the Government understands the risk.”
Further, he said, a 5-day quarantine period “will do nothing to bring tourists”, on the basis that “tourists are not going to want to spend half of their 10-day vacation in quarantine.”
Further challenging the relaxed arrivals protocols coming into effect next Wednesday, he claimed that “a reduced quarantine of 5 days will encourage residents to travel over the summer, thus further injuring local businesses relying on local spending to remain open. We believe that staycations, dinners, lunches and nights-out by residents will be severely affected by the reduced quarantine period.”
Opposition Leader McTaggart welcomed the decision of the PACT coalition to extend the pension holiday and the tourism stipend, but said it was “illogical and heartless” to cut the stipend in half - from $1500 to $750 - in November.
“We do not understand how the Minister of Tourism can agree with us that the stipends are needed and that cruise tourism is unlikely to resume this year, yet go on in the same breath to announce that he will cut the stipend payment to $750 per month in November. That is both illogical and heartless.”
Mr McTaggart, the finance minister in the previous Progreeeives-led government, repeated the call for the stipend to be increased to $2000 per month instead of being reduced.
“We remain of the view that the stipend should be increased to $2000 monthly through the rest of this year," he argued.
"We must ensure that our people who work in Tourism and who remain unemployed or under-employed, and whose pension funds monies have long since been exhausted continue to have the ability to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads and food on the table for their families.”
The Progressives leader said the PACT coalition should have convened a Finance Committee in early May and sought additional funding to extend and increase the necessary Covid-19 relief programmes, which he said they would have done if they were still in power.
But Opposition Leader offered to support the Panton administration if it put the additional funding in place, saying “they can still do so next month and can be assured of our support.”
That’s when the government budget is due to be presented.
Mr McTaggart called on the government to “provide details sooner rather than later on their re-opening plans for tourism” and said the people who rely on tourism and the country at large needs certainty.