~ Panneflek: Antigen testing being pursued ~
PHILIPSBURG–Members of Parliament (MPs) have passed a motion calling for businesses to be allowed to operate for their regular opening hours and for Health Minister Richard Panneflek to immediately explore the possibilities of adjusting the admittance policy to the country by, amongst other things, implementing the use of rapid antigen-testing at ports of entry.
The motion, which was tabled by United People’s (UP) party MP Omar Ottley, was passed by 11 votes in favour and three against. In reacting to the motion, VSA Minister Richard Panneflek said St. Maarten will be pursuing the route of rapid antigen testing. He said the country is already moving in this direction to make it as safe as possible for everyone. Authorities are currently checking to see which antigen test is most effective and best to use in the country, but Panneflek assured, “Yes, we are pushing for it.”
The motion calls for travellers to be encouraged to have themselves tested before coming to the country, but stated that this should not be a requirement, as the rapid antigen test can be administered locally delivering same-time results.
The motion further states that travellers will need to pay a fixed fee to government as a contribution towards the cost of testing, insurance and COVID-19 treatment capabilities in St. Maarten. The fee should be below the average cost of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in the United States of America.
Travellers who violate physical distancing and other guidelines will be subject to a fine, to be stipulated by legal instrument, read the motion.
The motion said also that the Ministers of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) Ludmila de Weever and VSA should create a policy for a safe and responsible way of allowing crew members of cruise ships docked at Port St. Maarten to disembark as visitors.
“The Minister should seek advice on this from the Ministry of VSA, the American Advanced Medical Integration Group (AMI) and any other local healthcare professionals regarding stringent measures, protocols and the implementation of the measures regarding antigen testing,” said the motion.
It also called on government to allow businesses to reopen for their regular opening hours, but with strict adherence to the health code and biweekly inspection by controllers. The motion calls for the minister to report back to Parliament with the ministry’s advice within one week, given “the urgency and the immediate need for action.”
The considerations of the motion state that based on the presentation by De Weever in Parliament on October 21, St. Maarten can expect an economic contraction of 25 per cent, unemployment rise to at least 14 per cent and a drop of tourism of more than 50 per cent for 2020.
While the presentation provided short-, medium- and long-term plans for creating a “Path to Economic Recovery,” several MPs have taken note of the need for even more immediate-term measures to reopen the economy.
Many travellers and the country’s tourism industry are hamstrung by the testing requirement for entry into St. Maarten, while other destinations such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica have removed testing requirements in lieu of local testing and travel insurance, and have not seen a drastic rise in cases correlated to this new policy, the considerations of the motion state.
The five-day requirement of PCR testing was established due to a drastic decline in arriving passengers who were not able to receive their results in time (72 hours) from the country in which they embarked.
The Netherlands approved various rapid antigen tests in October and the average cost of a PCR test in the United States is $100 to $200 (average $150), according to Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, the two largest lab chains in the United States. St. Maarten is currently serving dozens of cruise ships each month, with many housing isolated and monitored crew who probably would “be extremely thrilled,” to be able to leave the ship and spend on the island.
Some MPs expressed concern about some aspects of the motion and voted against it.