Hotel sector protests foot-dragging by government regarding opening of tourism industry

What’s the government waiting for? Does the Public Health Minister not have a clue about the protocols. Anyone who listened to the televised interview by Alicia Ortega with Public Health Minister Rafael Sánchez Cárdenas came away confused. How could it be that the Minister of Public Health was asking questions, when his role is to give answer

Joel de los Santos, a former president of the National Hotel & Tourism Association, remarked on the comments made by Dr. Sánchez Cárdenas during an interview on La Cuestion radio talk show on Super7FM on 16 June. “The tourism sector is not for improvisations. We need time to prepare the reopening,” he said. He protested the government has not approved the guidelines for the reopening of the tourism industry on 1 July 2020.

De los Santos lamented the slow decision making and the lack of communication. He stressed that what happens in the tourism industry has a big impact on the country’s production chain because the tourism industry is a major buyer of local produce.

“What happens if tomorrow the government does not authorize hotels and airports to open on 1 July? The next time the government gives a date, people will not believe us. This is creating the conditions for the sector to have to wait until the end of the year to open, with all the economic impacts it will have on the people both in the sector and the subsectors that depend on it,” said De los Santos.

De los Santos said the hotel sector submitted internationally-reviewed operational protocols more than a month ago. They have not heard back from the authorities. He said the protocols, which focus on operational matters for hotels and aviation sector, do not contemplate quarantines. He said it is up to the Ministry of Public Health to define the health issues. “We expected a quicker response to the certifying of the protocols so they can then notify the tour operators. “We are delaying the process, with obvious consequences,” said De los Santos. He stressed tourism right now is a buyers market and there are decisions that need to be announced. “Things have to be done well.”

During the interview with investigative reporter Alicia Ortega, Dr. Sánchez Cárdenas had explained that the health and tourism authorities were still working to define the protocols for hotels. Dr. Sánchez Cárdenas remarked that there is a diversity of possibilities. He said the visitors could be required to come with a PCR negative test. He spoke of decisions needed to be made on where tourist mobility, how people are going to be transported, assessments in situ that guarantee that the information in any health certification presented by the tourists are valid. Should we carry out a PCR to all tourists, he had asked? Should we put those that are sick in quarantine? What about those that are negative? Will we limit the outings of the tourists. We have to answer those questions in a protocol that guarantees the opening of the hotel, which guarantees to the country, employees and the tourists, he had stated.

“We prefer to wait for the conclusion of the opening phases to take a decision. In great measure the resuming of activities is conditioned by the evolution of the epidemic, not only for education but for all other sectors that are pending. This is by phases, but we need to have the statistics on hand to know if we can ease the restrictions and know what to expect. Will we be able to harmonize the economic activity without affecting the hospitalization capacity?, he asked. Nevertheless, he said: “If I take the data of today, we can open today.” He said there is a majority of recoveries and a low fatality rate.

The fatality rate in the Dominican Republic has been consistently declining. From 4.29 on 30 April 2020, it has declined to 2.86 on 31 May and 2.60 on 16 June 2020.

Dr. Sánchez Cárdenas said the country needs to prepare. He did not address questions of whether the Ministry of Public Health is manipulating the statistics for political reasons. The presidential and congressional elections are scheduled for 5 July 2020 and polls show the government presidential candidate is lagging behind.

In an update to this story, on the evening of 16 June, Gustavo Montalvo, coordinator of the High Commission for the Prevention of Coronavirus, announced the government would meet with the tourism sector on Wednesday, 17 June to deliver the approved health guidelines.

Follow the story in Spanish:
Ministry of Public Health

La Cuestion 16 June 2020

El Informe con Alicia Ortega
See the interview as of minute 50:00

17 June 2020