“I envy your brilliant pandemic plan.”
Wait, what? The comment from a friend whom I was messaging with, for the first time since I’d moved to Barbados, took me by surprise. I hadn’t thought of it that way.
I did it for love. The closed Canada-US border meant that Scott and I were separated. After 4 months we started talking about meeting somewhere. Maybe Hawaii? If we booked 6 weeks then a possible two week quarantine on arrival wouldn’t be so bad. We looked at rentals, but Hawaii’s numbers started to go up and they started shutting down.
The list of countries Americans could go to became shorter and shorter.
Bahamas was on there. Once we opened the door to the Caribbean, we also saw Barbados. Comparing the two, Barbados looked like they were handling Covid better.
Then in late July, in the middle of a case spike that came 3 weeks after they reopened for tourism, Bahamas briefly closed their border to Americans. Wanting to get out of the States while he could, Scott booked a flight and we confirmed accommodation in Barbados.
Two days before his flight, his granddaughter’s friend announced she’d had a positive Covid test. She had been visiting that weekend. Not willing to fly when there was a risk of being contagious, Scott postponed his flight two weeks and the nail-biting continued.
In mid-August, negative test in hand, Scott arrived in Barbados and went to his quarantine hotel. After 5 days of ordering meals and groceries that were delivered to the hallway outside his door, Scott was picked up by a government van and taken for his second Covid test. The next day, his negative results were announced and he was free to go. A month later, after my son had started back to college, I joined him.
Barbados’ pandemic response was exemplary. At the end of March, with 24 cases, the government declared an emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew. A week later, with cases almost doubled, they imposed 24-hour quarantine. Alcohol sales were banned and the only trips allowed were medical emergencies or essential workers. After a week, grocery stores were opened for pickup of orders, once a week, your day assigned alphabetically. An isolation and quarantine facility was completed and opened. A shipment of ventilators was seized by the US government, but 5 donated by Rihanna to the country of her birth were delivered.
By mid-April, there had been 3 consecutive days with no new cases, but strict quarantine continued till May 4. Even then, a night-time curfew applied, and beaches were only open from 6-9 am. But community transmission had been stopped, with only 7 deaths, a total that still stands.
Reopening was careful. Repatriation flights brought in new cases but they were all caught on arrival or during the mandatory quarantine. This continued after commercial flights resumed in mid-July. All cases since then have been imported, except for one cluster in early October when the housekeeper of a new arrival spread it to members of her immediate family. Contact tracing, including closing and testing of an entire school, kept the cluster to 6 people.
So is it safe to come to Barbados? When you arrive with a negative test you will be sent to the quarantine facility of your choice, which now includes a range of hotels. You won’t be allowed on the beach until a second negative test, but you may have an ocean view or even your own dip pool. Check the Latest information and see what you think.
We feel much safer here than at home, either in Canada or the States. There is no community transfer, yet everyone wears masks inside, on transit, or in crowded areas outside. Temperatures are taken, hand sanitizer dispensed, contact info written down. Some tourists are not as vigilant as locals, but there is comfort in knowing that they have all had two recent negative COVID tests. We have our choice of restaurants and shops. We have developed a Barbados “bubble” of other ex-pats. Beaches are open and not crowded. We’re learning to surf.
Of course, there are still risks. We didn’t know if infection rates were going to increase after we arrived. To balance economy with safety the quarantine period for new arrivals has been decreased. We could get caught here if flights stop; there will be no repatriation flights when our home governments recommend against any non-essential international travel. My travel medical insurance specifically excludes Covid.
But there were risks to staying at home, too. I chose brave travels.