A number of measures to mitigate COVID-19 in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba will be scrapped from the temporary regulations that gave the island governors, or the government commissioner in St. Eustatius, the authority to impose measures in certain areas during the pandemic.
Dutch Minister of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sport Ernst Kuipers on Tuesday sent the adaptation to the Temporary regulation measures COVID-19 for each of the three islands to the Dutch Parliament for approval. They are expected to be approved shortly.
Measures that were used in the past two years to close establishments such as stores, restaurants and bars, casinos, sports and fitness centres, educational facilities, day care, wellness centres will be annulled because there no longer is a need to do so.
As part of the legislation change, the measures for travellers arriving in Bonaire and Saba will be adapted. A negative PCR or antigen test result is already not needed anymore for passengers from high-risk areas entering Bonaire. The requirement of a negative PCR or antigen test result for people arriving in Saba will be eliminated per May 1 this year.
According to Kuipers, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM had advised to ease the testing measures for passengers arriving in St. Eustatius and Saba in phases. Saba will phase out the measures for arriving passengers and will classify all countries as low-risk. The intention is to drop all measures for arriving passengers per May 1, the minister confirmed in the document that accompanied the change to the regulations.
Considering the relatively low vaccination grade in St. Eustatius in comparison with Saba, Bonaire and the Netherlands, and in combination with the higher number of infections especially among young people, St. Eustatius will maintain the measures for arriving travellers. Therefore, obligatory test before travelling to St. Eustatius remains in place.
Arriving passengers can only enter St. Eustatius with a negative test result, while the Government Commissioner keeps a larger number of options with regard to the size of groups that may gather in one place, closure times and events.
St. Eustatius has an “extra light” COVID-19 policy since March 11 this year. This means that bars, restaurants and contact professions may use 50 per cent of their capacity, and there are restrictions on the size of groups and events. Per April 11, these on-island measures were further downscaled.
According to Kuipers, the epidemiological situation in the Caribbean Netherlands is favourable at this time. The number of infections may be high, especially in St. Eustatius, but there is no increased pressure on the healthcare system and the situation remains tenable.
The large number of infections on the islands is probably the result of relaxed measures which are being implemented in phases. Due to the positive developments in the epidemiological situation, the island governors (Bonaire, Saba) and government commissioner (St. Eustatius) no longer make use of their authority to appoint locations where the COVID-19 measures apply.
As such, it is no longer necessary for the island governors/government commissioner to apply many of the measures that were introduced during the pandemic in order to combat COVID-19. “It is not expected that these measures will again have to be implemented. That is why various articles can be annulled,” stated the minister. Articles that restrict events, opening times, group sizes or hygiene measures will remain in the temporary regulation. These measures have a smaller impact on society and can be effective (re)introduced to stop or delay the spreading of the coronavirus when this proves to be necessary.
The articles in the temporary regulations COVID-19 measures for the three islands with regard to the use of face masks in public areas will remain in the regulation so they can be directly (re)implemented when this proves necessary.
It is important to reduce the measures in the Caribbean Netherlands in phases. This is to prevent a large influx and a circulation of the virus. “A small outbreak can have large consequences due to the small size of the islands and the limited healthcare capacity,” stated Kuipers.
A number of factors play a role in the Caribbean Netherlands in the approach of the pandemic. Compared to the Netherlands, the islands have a vulnerable healthcare capacity, there is a large difference in the presence and effectiveness of existing surveillance methods to detect surges and virus variants at an early stage, and there is a higher percentage of people with an increased risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19.
Furthermore, it is more usual on the islands for multiple generations, including senior citizens, to live under one roof and the number of incoming travellers is higher in relation to the size of the community. “For these reasons, a quick response is needed in the Caribbean Netherlands in case of a new outbreak. Maintaining the face mask obligation in the regulation makes this possible,” stated Kuipers.
The Daily Herald.