Clarisa Jiménez, chief executive officer of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, said there is no need to close businesses in the tourism sector that comply with the protocols to avoid COVID-19 infections. (Vanessa Serra Diaz)
That more molecular tests of COVID-19 be carried out, that the control of short-term rental properties be increased and that, if necessary, the National Guard is activated, are some of the proposals that were outlined yesterday by spokespersons for the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association (PRHTA), to control the advance of the pandemic and avoid a total shutdown of the economy.
They also highlighted the importance of the government, instead of imposing more restrictions on economic activity, enforcing the measures provided in the executive orders to stop the infections.
“Only those who have symptoms are being tested, but more tests are supposed to be done to have an X-ray of the country and detect the areas that are the focus (of contagions)”, highlighted Miguel Vega, president of HI Development, a company who operates two hotels and three casinos, and chairman of the PRHTA Casino Committee.
The association proposed to the government to increase the molecular tests of COVID-19 and the speed in giving the results of these to know the real situation and be able to control the outbreaks. He also recommended strengthening the case monitoring program to have more accurate and reliable data about where, how and when infections are occurring in order to implement specific measures to control them.
“You have to take a good look at the data from the Department of Health (DS), see where the problem really is and attack it, but as long as it is not attacked, supervised or penalized, we will continue to have this type of increase in COVID- 19, ”said the president of the PRHTA board of directors, Pablo Torres, during a press conference in the Condado area.
As of yesterday, the DS had reported 627 deaths from COVID-19, as well as 21,156 confirmed and 22,688 probable cases. With a total of 43,844 confirmed and probable cases, Puerto Rico is the second destination with the highest incidence of the virus among the Caribbean islands, surpassed only by the Dominican Republic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is also the US jurisdiction with the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths outside of the continental United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Both the WHO and the CDC add up the confirmed and probable.
Even though infections continue to increase on the island, spokesmen for the tourism industry ruled out that an almost total shutdown of the economy, like the one that occurred last March, is the solution. Joaquín Bolívar III, owner of two hotels in San Juan and Carolina and president of the Committee of Owners of the PRHTA, highlighted that the government's own data indicates that 67% of the outbreaks are of community origin, which mostly arise from family activities such as parties, birthdays and wakes.
For this reason, he understands that inns and other businesses in the tourism sector are not a source of contagion. “No hotel has been notified that there was an outbreak at their facilities,” Bolívar said. He contrasted that, on the other hand, short-term rentals are provided for people to rent houses with pools in which they have parties where masks are not used and the required physical distance of six feet between people is not met to avoid contagion.
Given this, the PRHTA asked the State to supervise the independent alternative accommodations -especially those that are marketed through digital platforms- and to impose sanctions or fines on the owners and operators of these properties for each day of violation of the orders. executives or to order them to close until further notice.
“If the problem is attacked and what already exists is enforced, we are sure that things will change,” said Clarisa Jiménez, PRHTA's chief executive officer. “We have seen situations where there are people walking down the street without masks, the police pass by and they do not stop them to tell them that they have to put on the mask. Part of the (executive) order is that they have to issue a fine. Here the biggest problem is the lack of compliance with what is already there ”.
To ensure compliance with the provisions of the government's executive orders, the PRHTA proposed that the Puerto Rico Police personnel be increased and that, if possible, the National Guard be activated to provide support in these tasks. “I think the police are doing their best and they are trying hard to help under these circumstances, but maybe they are not enough,” Torres said.
The association, which has about 400 partners from the tourism industry, also recommended a massive advertising campaign that urges the population to follow contagion prevention measures, such as the use of masks, physical distancing and hand washing. and make clear to the public the risks and fines involved in not complying with the current restrictions.