PHLIPSBURG – Less than two weeks of greenlighting carnival, the Council of Ministers cancelled the event along with Heineken Regatta. The two festivals are widely recognized, economic drivers of St. Maarten’s tourism industry.
This will be the second year carnival has been cancelled due to threats caused by Covid-19. Announcement of the carnival was met with lots of criticism from the public.
Despite the mixed responses, the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF) presented their health and safety measures to stakeholders with the intent to roll out a public awareness campaign. That started with a radio interview by the SCDF President Alston Lourens and publication of the measures such as mandatory masks, limiting the number of people in the carnival village, a live stream option and six walk-through sanitizing stations among other procedures.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said “in the interest of the general health of the citizens of St. Maarten” the festival had to be cancelled after discussions with health care professionals and law enforcement. Jacobs also met with the French Prefet Serge Gouteyron, who expressed his pleasure of the cancellation. The spread of the virus was used last year for closing the border between two sides resulting in a massive protest.
Lourens said “it’s quite unfortunate” that the two events were cancelled. He said the foundation didn’t get a chance to release their other plans such as a mass testing event. “We really wanted to tie people getting tested into the festival as well.” He added that an analysis of what’s recoverable will take place. Lourens stated that SCDF will take time to restructure for future events. According to Lourens SCDF went over and beyond to ensure a safe festival for revellers.
Another blow to the foundation was the decision by three of the largest sponsors to withdraw their support for carnival. According to a joint press release, they were disappointed since SCDF did not inform them first-hand of their plans. They cited that “the health and safety of the community must remain of paramount consideration and importance.” SCDF has yet to comment on the release.
Without these companies, there was a questionable chance of carnival being able to continue. SCDF also did not receive a subsidy from the government last year nor this year. The foundation is currently calculating their losses however there are many others affected by the decision.
Costume makers, vendors, troupes and companies contracted to work with carnival can no longer look forward to the stimulus carnival provides. An economic impact study of 2019 festival was started but is yet to be completed due to the pandemic and pending information from government Lourens said. In their approval of carnival, the government added that it will “not be held responsible for any loss of income, investments or otherwise.”
Participants had to willingly take the risk of participating in the festival. St. Maarten now joins other islands in the region which announced that there will be no carnival for 2021. As the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications expressed in Wednesday’s press briefing her “extreme concerns of the new variant which are super contagious.” “We don’t want to have this new variant come in and we’re not prepared for it and have to eventually go into another lockdown.”