The United States Virgin Islands has halted leisure travel to its Caribbean shores. As of Monday, a stay-at-home order has been reactivated and all nonessential businesses and churches have been ordered to cease operations.
Governor Albert Bryan, Jr.’s decision to place residents under a 30-day order comes as cases in the U.S. territory have reached concerning levels. According to a New York Times case count, of the 760 total cases reported throughout the territories since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, 184 of them have come within the last seven days. The U.S. Virgin Islands now leads the United States in increasing new cases per capita.
“When we announced our COVID-19 alert system in May, I indicated at that time that we would retreat to a more cautious state of alert if conditions warranted,” Bryan said during a press conference last Thursday. “Unfortunately, we have arrived at that point this week.”
In an executive order Bryan directed any and all vacation housing to cease acceptance of any guests or new guest bookings for a period of 30 days. Exceptions are emergency personnel, flight crews, business travelers and government guests with written authorization.
“The recent infiltration of the virus into our residential institutions that house vulnerable members of our population creates an alarming level of risk,” the governor warned. “This adds to the stress of the ongoing pandemic response that seemingly has no end in sight and is wearing out our health care and public safety infrastructure.”
For years, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John have been popular destinations for global travelers seeking a beach retreat. A 2016 economic review of the islands showed that roughly 2 million guests visited the territories each year and tourism drove nearly 60 percent of its GDP and roughly half of its civilian employment. A cease in tourism triggered by COVID-19 comes as the islands continue to bounce back from storms Irma and Maria, whose Category 5–strength winds wreaked havoc on the infrastructure of the islands and drastically reduced visitation from outside guests.
“In the short term, the prohibition on new leisure travel reservations in the U.S. Virgin Islands will likely have an adverse economic impact since almost one-third of the economy is tied to tourism,” Kamal I. Latham, Former CEO of U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority told ESSENCE. “However, it is in the best interests of the health and safety of the Territory’s residents to have a temporary pause and return to serving visitors when conditions improve.”