TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said 60,000 non-residents bought travel health visas to visit the country in March, double the number that did so in December 2020.
“I’m encouraged,” he said of the numbers.
It is believed that the number of travel visas purchased roughly corresponds to the number of arrivals in the country.
The figure for March represents a 92 percent decline compared to arrivals in March 2019.
Mr D’Aguilar said: “According to the health visa, which is different from who actually comes, in November 2020 there were 14,000 arrivals. In December 2020 there were 32,000 arrivals. There were 21,000 arrivals in January 2021 and 28,000 in February 2021.”
“Sixty thousand in March is probably a good indication that things are going to get better. I’m encouraged.
“One can conclude that there was a definite uptick in March, double what came in the Christmas period. “But it’s probably still a lot less than what it was in the good old days, but we’re getting there.”
Mr D’Aguilar attributed the increase to the accelerated vaccination programme in the United States.
“First of all, Americans now are getting vaccinated at a rate of three million arms per day,” he said. “We are incredibly lucky to be next to the country that has implemented and rolled out their vaccination programme better than any other country on the planet. Obviously what we have to do is to do as best as possible given the supply that we can secure, vaccinate our people. As more and more people get vaccinated, they are more emboldened to travel and break out of their self-imposed quarantine over the last year.”
Mr D’Aguilar noted last week that there is no plan for the country to move away from its RT-PCR testing requirement for domestic travel and to use rapid antigen testing instead.
“It is absolutely critical that we prevent as best as we can any growth in COVID cases in the Family Islands because the health facilities just do not exist to provide adequate care and so the government is taking the advice of their providers in order to prevent it. I know it’s costly. I know it’s annoying. I know everybody is fatigued, but we just cannot allow for an uptick to happen,” he said.