photo: Marit Severijnse

KRALENDIJK- The measures taken against the corona virus are slowly being lifted on Bonaire. That means that people in the Caribbean municipality can start returning to a normal life. But with no tourists and visitors anywhere on the horizon, the ‘new normal’ is looking far from ideal for business owners.

Recreational flights to the island are still banned for now. Large gatherings are also forbidden as are events. Business owners and institutions are allowed to open their doors once more but under strict hygiene and social distancing rules, however it remains to be seen whether they can survive under these new circumstances.

Surviving without tourists
The hospitality industry and the popular scuba diving sector suffered greatly during the past few months. Even though the measures are slowly being lifted and they can open again, it will be a waiting game to see if they can survive in this ‘new normal’.

A report by Marit Severijnse and Nathaly Evertsz-Ipcedencia

Restaurant El Bigote had only been open for two years when the corona measures were announced and the restaurant had to close its doors. The staff tried offering free deliveries and pick up, but that wasn’t enough to keep running the business. “We’ll open again on June 3rd. We’ll see what the sales will be like with the 1,5 meters”, says co-owner Okke Wessels.

“I’m afraid that it’s going to take a while before it gets busy again on the island”
– Scuba instructor Baukje Wassenaar

Baukje Wassenaar and her husband operate a scuba center, Private Divers Bonaire. They celebrated their first year in business in February. They’ve had a hard time and their turnover is currently zero. The situation has had an enormous impact on the dive center, which has to mostly make do with tourists.

They are not discouraged though and are ready for when the borders open up again. “We’re hoping that everything starts up again soon. But I’m afraid that it’s going to take a while before it gets busy again on the island”, says Baukje.

Culture on appointment
Large gatherings are still banned even though the measures are being loosened on Bonaire. Cultural institutions such as theatres and museums are trying to wrap their heads around how to organize activities.

Cultural institution Magazina di Rey came up with the solution a ‘guided tour by appointment’. Those are organized in small groups, keeping the social distancing guidelines in mind. The institution will still experience rough times though. The popular monthly cultural evening ‘Nos Zjilena’ has been put on hold for example.

During this cultural evening traditional dances, foods, and stories are shared. Usually more than 250 visitors attend such an evening. “We’re talking to the government about what this event should look like in the future”, says institution employee Izain Mercera.

Not social for everyone
Healthcare institutions on the island are also in for a challenge, despite the loosening of measures. “The new normal is a habit for us”, says coordinator Alyette Quitindongo of nursing home Fundashon Kalor di Hogar.

“How do you tell a demented client that they have to keep 1,5 meters distance?”
– Healthcare coordinator Alyette Quirindongo

The corona crisis provided this institution with extra headaches because a lot of their clients are in a high risk group. To protect this vulnerable group the nursing home followed the rules to a T. Only employees were allowed into the building and we paid a lot of attention to the rules concerning hygiene.

In the meantime, clients are allowed to have visitors once more. This only happens on appointment and with a maximum of two individuals. “Our only challenge is getting demented clients to follow the rules. How do you tell a demented client that they have to keep 1,5 meters distance?”, asks Alytte.