ORANJESTAD – As the only country within the Kingdom, Aruba will open its borders tomorrow on July 10th, with the United States. By doing this, Aruba will be ignoring the advice of epidemiologists and physicians. But there are also signs that a lot of inhabitants and companies don’t follow the social distancing and hygiene rules.
It’s the end of the schoolyear and the hospitality industry has a lot of festivities planned to celebrate this. Minister of Justice, Andin Bikker, warns on the eve of the border opening that the police will be conducting extra patrols this weekend. “Businesses who don’t enforce the 1,5 meter or gathering rules, will receive a fine or they’ll be shut down.”
The ministers, including the prime minister, and the police have been saying for weeks that ‘a lot of people and businesses’ are no longer following the corona measures that strictly. When Caribbean Network follows up with Sharline Koolman, crisis leader at the Directorate for Public Health, and asks if it a responsible move to let American tourists come to the island, she suddenly says that it ‘is only a few groups’ that breaks these rules. And that a ‘balance should be found with the economy’.
It now seems that the Justice department finds it necessary to utilize extra forces when the border opens.
Minister for Health, Dangui Oduber, has been flip-flopping when it comes to the policy for reopening the border with the US. He said before that he was looking into the possibility of keeping the borders closed with high risk US states due to the risk of infection. But that policy has been let loose: inhabitants of those states are allowed to enter, but have to get tested before they come.
While last month minister Oduber said that he wouldn’t compel tourists to get tested before they arrive on the island. Because otherwise airlines would no longer want to fly to Aruba and would prioritize other destinations.
Now it seems that airlines don’t have an issue with testing up front. Because the Aruban airport announced today that they’re expecting about 4000 passengers this weekend, most of which are Americans. The busiest day will be Saturday, with 10 flights arriving from America. Amongst them are flights from Florida, which had a record breaking week when it comes to corona fatalities.
‘It wasn’t 1,5 meters’ – KLM passengers
According to the government and the airport, there are strict protocols in place to reduce the chances of an arriving passenger contracting the virus. But on the first tourist flight from the Netherlands on July 4th (the border with Europe opened on July 1st), passengers said that they were standing close together in the queue for the border control.
“That wasn’t 1,5 meters”, says a woman who was travelling with her grandchildren. She also found the situation at the luggage carousels chaotic. Passengers weren’t allowed to remove their own luggage from the carousel, airport staff did that. But after that passengers had to look for their own luggage, which were randomly put down somewhere, in close proximity to each other.
The minister of Health has mentioned multiple times that Aruba is ‘100% following the advices of the RIVM’ for the reopening of the borders. But when asked, a spokesperson for the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) said that they do not provide travel advisories. “I think that they mean the Outbreak Management Team advices, not those of the RIVM.”
The latest advice from this team consisting of public health representatives, laboratories, hospitals, and ambulance services from the four countries within the Kingdom, dates from June 3rd. And one of the advices the team gives in this report to keep risks low is: “Implement selection procedures for countries where tourists enter from on the basis of the current epidemiology from the countries of origin.”
America is specifically mentioned in this advice as one of the countries where a tourist with corona is 10 to 50 times more likely to occur compared to a tourist from the Netherlands. That was based on the numbers from May. In the meantime the number of cases in America have grown exponentially and several states don’t have the outbreak under control any more. This also shows that Aruba is ignoring the advices.
Enough healthcare capacity?
And there’s more. The Outbreak Management Team says that there should be enough healthcare capacity on the islands when the borders open up again. The Asha, an association of medical specialists from the Aruban Horacio Oduber-hospital, has sent a scathing letter to the government saying that there is not enough capacity at the moment. This is due to a recent fire where asbestos was released, but also due to the renovation/new construction of the hospital, and the cuts to healthcare.
Yesterday minister Oduber assured that the situation would normalize starting on Sunday. But he was only speaking about the departments that could move back after the fire.
He couldn’t elaborate on the healthcare cuts.