Haiti, Jamaica changing COVID travel protocols for visitors

Haiti and Jamaica are joining a growing list of countries that are once again revising their COVID-19 travel protocols in hopes of making it easier for visitors, and to boost revenues and vaccination rates.

Effective Saturday, international visitors to Jamaica will no longer be required to present a negative result from a COVID-19 antigen or PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to landing, the Jamaica Tourism Board announced.

Additionally, as of Friday Jamaica has ended its mandate for masks in enclosed public spaces.

Jamaica Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said both decisions are “important strides” toward his nation’s continued gradual relaxation of travel protocols as the spread of COVID-19 keeps declining.

Jamaica recently eliminated travel-related quarantines and the requirement for travelers to complete and receive approval of a Travel Authorization Form for entry to the island. It also shortened the isolation period required for U.S. travelers who test positive for COVID-19 while in Jamaica, in keeping with CDC recommended guidelines, and eliminated quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated business travelers who present a negative PCR test taken within 3 days of travel to Jamaica.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention downgraded Jamaica to a Level 1 designation, the lowest, in its latest COVID-19 travel advisory due to the country’s low number of cases. Jamaica’s case levels have steadily decreased in recent months after the country struggled with controlling infections during the pandemic.

“We are optimistic that these simpler requirements will serve to increase the appeal of Jamaica as a premiere destination and keep us moving along the road to a stronger recovery for both the tourism sector and the nation’s economy as a whole,” Bartlett said.

Haiti is putting new COVID requirements in place as of Monday. Fully vaccinated visitors will no longer need to present a negative COVID-19 antigen or PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel. But the testing requirement will stay in place for unvaccinated visitors, the health ministry has announced.

The last country in the Caribbean and Latin American to receive COVID-19 vaccines, Haiti has the lowest vaccination rate in the region, with 1.1% of its population vaccinated. By making it easier for vaccinated persons to visit, ministry officials are hoping to see an increase in Haitians willing to get vaccinated.

The ministry has reported 30,586 infections and 835 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began. While health experts agree the figures are undercounted, they also agree that the virus has not been as deadly in Haiti as it has been elsewhere. The CDC in recent weeks dropped the country from its “ avoid travel” “Level 4” health list, and reclassified it under “Level 1.” Haiti remains under at a “Level 4” level on the State Department’s travel advisory due to “kidnapping, crime and civil unrest.”

The requirement for travelers coming to the U.S., including returning citizens and residents, to get tested within one day of flying remains unchanged, per the CDC guidelines.

Earlier this month the World Health Organization’s America’s office warned that while cases are trending down in most countries across the region, some countries in the Caribbean and Latin America are seeing a spike in infections amid the relaxing of public health protocols.

The Pan American Health Organization, which has never supported testing for travel, warned that countries need to remain vigilant, especially with the dramatic surges that Europe and East Asia experienced as the Omicron variant known as BA.2 spread through their populations.

Countries must continue to monitor the virus to stay prepared for what comes next, PAHO’s director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, told regional journalists at a press briefing earlier this month.

Etienne said that more than 685 million people in the region have completed their COVID vaccination schedules, and 50 countries and territories have already begun to deliver additional doses and booster shots to their eligible populations.

“Despite all our efforts, 240 million people in the Americas have yet to get a single shot of COVID vaccine,” she said.

This story was originally published April 15, 2022 3:49 PM.

Profile Image of Jacqueline Charles

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.