British holidaymakers may be grounded temporarily in lockdown, but in Barbados, the behaviour of some of them over the Christmas holidays has left a lasting impression indeed.
Love Island’s Zara Holland received a fine of Bds$12,000 (£4,300) when she appeared in court in Barbados last week. She was charged with breaching the Covid laws and was arrested, with her boyfriend Elliott Love, at Barbados International airport. Mr Love had tested positive for Covid-19 and the couple were apparently attempting to flee the country, rather than be placed in an isolation facility.
Meanwhile, as cases on the island continue to rise, a reported 33 cases have been linked to the airport from which the couple tried to leave. Many airport employees have had to quarantine, and some were instructed to spend the festive season alone. This angered many people here on the island – and Holland’s claims that the incident was simply “a massive mix up” only added fuel to the fire.
This was not a one-off. There have been other highly publicised breaches, by tourists, of the island’s strict quarantine protocols. Last Thursday, the same court fined another British couple Bds$6,000 (£2,200) each for breaking restrictions. Recently arrived, they had invited a Jamaican woman into their room in an up-market hotel for sex.
Barbados requires all visitors to the island to be kept in quarantine until they have had the all-clear on a second Covid test – taken five days after the first negative test result (which must be obtained before travelling). This requirement, up until very recently, had kept the island largely Covid-free during the pandemic.
But there has often seemed to be a vast disparity in the attitude to Covid protocols between tourists and islanders. There are reports of holidaymakers cutting off their quarantine-identifying wristbands in order to abscond (as Zara Holland and her boyfriend allegedly did) – going on public transport, or to a party, before being found to be Covid positive. By UK standards, that may not seem like a big deal – but on a very small island which has made a very great effort to keep its people safe, it is considered to be completely unacceptable.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of visitors have been respectful, responsible and aware that they were in a different country and culture. But it only takes a few high-profile cases to wreck the island’s inherent good-will towards them.
As one Bajan angrily put it on social media, “Stop letting these tourists come into the country and do as they feel like, with no respect for its ppl or the country. They destroy their country, so that’s on them but leave the disrespectful attitudes and behaviour with the sense of entitlement with them in their country once they step foot on the island.”
Now Barbados is again under a nightly curfew – with warnings of further restrictions to come – and experiencing a surge in cases.
However, not all Bajans are above reproach. Some, too, have attempted to break quarantine rules – sometimes in a rather farcical way. Take Tarique Thornhill, who jumped, Tom Cruise-style, from a second floor balcony to escape an imaginary intruder. It was an extreme fear for his life, apparently, that spurred him to leap – and then he “fled for safety” in a taxi to an upmarket restaurant on the coast, where he was captured. He was fined Bds$6,000 (£2,200).
Social media shared the magistrate’s scepticism about Thornhill’s 'escape' from nobody in particular. “He could of said that he was a secret agent, that explanation would have been better and may have gotten him off too,” one islander commented.
Not quite so amusing was the case of Dean George Scott, a Jamaican, who left his quarantine facility to buy a lemonade and was promptly arrested. He couldn’t pay the fine so received a six-month prison sentence. “This will be a lesson for all the others,” the magistrate said.
With many countries now back in lockdown, there will be fewer tourists coming to Barbados in the near future – and there is speculation that it will soon be dropped again from England's travel corridor list. This will undoubtedly hurt the economy and people’s livelihoods. However, the health of the nation remains the main focus on the island – and the irresponsible actions of some visitors will not easily be forgotten.
All the more reason, when tourists eventually return, that they make their footprint light and respectful. As they say around here, “God don’t like ugly”.