JOINT STATEMENT REGARDING COVID-19 SURGE & BARBADOS’ ENTERTAINMENT SECTOR

The following is an official joint statement issued by The Barbados Association of Event Professionals (BAEP) and the Entertainment Association of Barbados (EAB). The EAB and the BAEP together represent the wide cross- section of people who work directly and indirectly in the creative economy, that is, the arts, events and entertainment sector.

In light of the national dialogue surrounding recent events in the island, we deem it both prudent and obligatory for the events and entertainment industry to articulate our position. We in no way endorse the staging of social activities which are not sanctioned by the Covid-19 Monitoring Unit or that fail to ensure that patrons follow the Covid-19 Event protocols. Indeed, as key economic stakeholders, we have painstakingly worked with the Unit in the development and dissemination of events protocol since July 2020, encouraging our members to comply with safety regulations.

Over the past 5 months, encouraged by government, our members have successfully staged Covid-19 compliant events, within set limits and restrictions, without incidence. It is against this background that the EAB and the BAEP find it considerably regrettable that following the revelation of an increase in the local spread of the pandemic, the Government felt it prudent to use the unfortunate infection of patrons who attended a Boxing Day ‘Bus Crawl‘, to cast blame in the events and entertainment industry and nullify our long-standing efforts to operate safely in a Covid-19 environment.

The hasty labelling of the event as a "<em>super-spreader</em>" by the government, despite PAHO's determination that such was too early to assess, sought to herald and vilify the event as the primary cause of the present situation, in which the country now finds itself, with respect to the increasing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. Moreover, to the point where the names of other similar events were mentioned and the event style was specifically banned indefinitely.

The hasty labelling of the event as a “super-spreader” by the government, despite PAHO’s determination that such was too early to assess, sought to herald and vilify the event as the primary cause of the present situation, in which the country now finds itself, with respect to the increasing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. Moreover, to the point where the names of other similar events were mentioned and the event style was specifically banned indefinitely.

As industry professionals, we are also concerned by the apparent lack of adherence to the basic protocol of wearing of masks, as was revealed in the unconfirmed footage and photos of many events and activities which are currently circulating digital media. We are equally concerned by the relaxation of protocols for visitors coming from high-risk countries, particularly at a time of the year that is one of our most socially active; Christmas and new year celebrations.

While we understand the need to stimulate our economy through facilitating the ability of our Tourism sector to generate revenue during the winter season, it is evident that with the increased number of visitors, came the breakdown of the systems instituted by government which protected the island for several months. Delays in test results, coupled with visitors breaching and ignoring protocols, aided by the accommodation sector failing to manage guests while in quarantine, may be the reason why hundreds of unsuspecting locals have been exposed to Covid-19.

While we understand the need to stimulate our economy through facilitating the ability of our Tourism sector to generate revenue during the winter season, it is evident that with the increased number of visitors, came the breakdown of the systems instituted by government which protected the island for several months. Delays in test results, coupled with visitors breaching and ignoring protocols, aided by the accommodation sector failing to manage guests while in quarantine, may be the reason why hundreds of unsuspecting locals have been exposed to Covid-19.

Regrettably, the failure of the authorities to manage the breaches in the early stages, along with the fact that locals existed in a false sense of security, as noted in the recently government-endorsed horse racing event, perhaps let their guard down, and patrons of the bus crawl fell victim. We are confident that had the producer, the bus company or patrons been aware of the inherent risk, the bus crawl would have been postponed or cancelled. In the absence of timely communication, local spread was the result. The myriad of documented and unofficial accounts of the flouting of protocols have left much to be desired.

The reluctance by government to acknowledge culpability in the face of such breaches on any other sector other than the events and entertainment sector, in the form of bans and fines, is unfortunate. Perhaps the apology extended to Sandals may at some point find its way to this industry. The constant berating and public castigation by government results in an unjustified public perception that impacts negatively on our businesses.

As professionals in the events and entertainment industry, we have been one of the hardest hit by the negative impact of the global pandemic. It has affected our ability to conduct business, to create employment for thousands of people, and to provide for our families. The longer we as a nation fail to control the impact of the virus locally, the longer we as an industry will suffer the curtailment of our business through government enforcement as a measure to control the spread of the virus.

It is our hope that our partners in the tourism industry, venues and food and beverage establishments, will join us in what we have been doing for months, working closely with Covid-19 Monitoring Unit in seeking to conduct business in a safe environment for everyone without incident. We look forward to the establishing of a direct strategic dialogue and participation with the social partnership as a part of future public-private sector consultations. We are ready to do what is necessary to move past this current setback, and to help to rebuild the economy and maintain the safe “bubble” that makes Barbados a successful pandemic management model and attractive destination. What we are not willing to do, is to continue to be tolerant of being vilified as the vector of spread locally.

Despite the distressing nature of the recent narrative, we, as representatives of those in the events and entertainment industry, wish to commend the government on their response to the pandemic since the inception of the impact on Barbados. It has been an example of international best practice and we regret that that image is now tarnished. It is our hope that collectively we will all redouble our efforts to rapidly get the situation under control and move forward to a return of some normalcy with restored vigour.

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