photo: Sharina Henriquez

ORANJESTAD – During the past three days Aruba registered 49 new cases of the corona virus, a striking increase which did not even occur during the peak months of March and April. It is for this reason that Curaçao has decided to close its borders with Aruba and why Arubans are now required to wear facemasks.

The new infections mostly occurred in nightclubs around the tourist area Palm Beach and in a gym. People who were there between the 17th of July and the 3rd of August and are symptomatic should report to the public health department.

In the meantime stricter corona measures have been implemented. Facemasks are required in stores, supermarkets, and other businesses where physical customer interactions occur. They are also required in public transport and in taxis. A fine has not yet been implemented for breaking these rules. “We still have to confer with the Office for the Public Prosecutor”, says deputy police chief Vanessa Tjon-Kock.

Bars closed
Another measure is that bars and nightclubs will be shut down immediately. It’s not known yet how long this closure will last. “We expect it to be for at least two weeks”, says Aruban prime minister Evelyn Wever-Croes.

During the last couple of days different hospitality venues and stores shut their doors as a preventative measure because their employees caught the virus. It’s not clear what this means for the tourism industry. Aruba opened its borders in July especially for this reason, amongst others with the US, which led to extra risks.

Neighboring Curaçao also believes this. They have decided to close their borders with Aruba due to the new outbreak. Bonaire will keep its borders with Aruba open for now, but has implemented a mandatory 14 day quarantine. The Netherlands has not changed its travel advisory as of yet.

Reason for new outbreak
If the outbreak is due to letting tourists in, cannot be said. Most of the infections occurred amongst locals (52) and not tourists (4), says the government. According to the prime minister and Health minister Dangui Oduber, Arubans themselves are to blame because even after all the warnings, they did not adhere to the hygiene and social distancing rules.

But Sharline Koolman, the crisis leader for the Directorate of Public Health, says that more research is needed to determine if the virus was brought in by tourists or if it is spreading amongst inhabitants. “Arubans have also travelled abroad and Aruban students who were studying abroad returned home.”

Tourists worried
Aruba opened its borders with the US, a high risk area, on July 10th, being the only country in the Kingdom to do so. The main reason for this was tourism. During the month of July, 13 thousand tourists visited, most of whom came from the US. “We’re in contact with America and there is no indication that they are considering closing the borders with Aruba due to the new outbreak”, says Edwin Kelly, director of the Department of Civil Aviation.

Tourists however are a bit more worried, says Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes of the Aruban Tourism Authority. “They’re asking if Aruba is safe to visit.” The economy of the island is entirely dependent on tourism. The loss due to corona is enormous. Tourism as an industry saw a reduction of 97% compared to the same period in July last year.