photo: Jenny Steel

PHILIPSBURG – On August 1st the St Maarten Government opened Princess Juliana Airport to US tourists under what they describe as a ‘strict protocol’. Passengers are instructed to complete an online health declaration and submit a negative COVID-19 (PCR) test completed maximum 72 hours before travelling to St. Maarten.

Out of 700 passengers who arrived over the weekend, 70 were tested for Coronavirus before leaving the airport terminal. All tests were negative.

Testing at the airport is part of Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Affairs Richard Panneflek’s aim for all visitors to be tested ‘as a means of protecting both guests and the population and reducing the spread and contamination of COVID-19’. Minister Panneflek’s hopes opening the airport to tourists from the US will ‘restore the economic pillar of the island healthily and responsibly so our residents can earn a living.’

Officers from the Ministry of Public Health have also made site inspections at hotels and visitor accommodations around the island to ensure these businesses have incorporated the government’s guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. Many larger establishments were inspected before they reopened after the state of Emergency was lifted on 17th May.

Not everyone is at ease
Sunset Beach Bar created their own plan in addition to the mandatory requirements including a 50% reduction in their seating, one-way entrances and exits and hand washing stations for guests and employees. Despite this, some employees are unsure whether these measures are enough to guarantee their safety.

Employees of the Sunset Beach Bar are concerned

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The General Manager of The Hole in The Wall Bar in Maho said that ‘police have been by a few nights. First to tell us we need to reduce the amount of guests we can have in the bar and again to make sure we were enforcing it.’ A bar-tender elsewhere on the island admitted there were times when their bar was so full it was impossible for the customers to maintain social distance.

‘Safer than the US’
American tourist Chad Wiener from Dallas Texas, arrived in St. Maarten on one of the first flights to land last Saturday. He admitted to feeling safer in St Maarten than the US after seeing the measures taken to protect travelers and employees at the airport, in his hotel and in restaurants.

American tourist Chad Wiener feels safe

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Other visitors to the island have been more critical. A deleted Facebook post from one passenger who arrived with a negative antibody test instead of the requested PCR COVID test believes St Maarten is ‘making a big buck of their US guests’. They were charged $125 to be retested and were asked to remain in their room for a day until the results came back negative.

French-Dutch border is open
Since the decision was made on the Dutch side to allow visitors from the US, the Préfet for French Saint Martin announced the internal Dutch-French border would be controlled as from midday on July 31st. The French-Dutch border remains open.

Control at the Dutch – French border. Photo: Jenny Steel

In the Netherlands, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs placed St Maarten under the Code Orange travel advisory recommending only essential travel to the island. Those travelling to the Netherlands from St Maarten are requested to quarantine for 14 days. Currently, St. Maarten has the most Coronavirus cases of all Caribbean countries in the Kingdom.