The mayor of one of the world’s most popular cruise destinations has a plan for welcoming cruisers back to an island completely dependent on tourism. Having been locked down since March 17th with strict rules and great care to ensure the safety of residents, any plans to re-open must be equally as carefully orchestrated.
As the cruise industry works hard to find when and how to resume operations, their ships, and the guests that will travel one them, of course need ports that are prepared to accept them. With 32% of all berths deployed to the Caribbean (nearly double the second most popular region, the Mediterranean), this region will likely be the first to welcome new cruisers.
Of course, that means that destinations like Cozumel must have plans in place to keep locals and visitors safe as, COVID-19 isn’t likely to be a battle that is over anytime soon. We learned a bit about those plans when Cozumel Mayor Pedro Joaquín Delbouis shared the island’s progress and plans with Mexican publication Alcaldes De México (Mayors of Mexico).
COIVD-19 Infections and Precautions in Cozumel
With lock-downs starting in mid-March, the island has also been under curfew from 5pm to 5am every single day. Given the economic impact, and to reduce those needing to venture out, the government has overseen the delivery of over 43,000 meals since April, and continues those efforts with a commitment to ensuring food will not be lacking for any of the island’s 90,000 inhabitants.
While the state of Quintana Roo has fewer documented cases than other more densely populated parts of Mexico, Cozumel stands out as having even lower numbers than other areas. As of the May 24th numbers from the Quintana Roo Health Department, the strict efforts seem to be working, with only 12 active cases, 8 deaths, and 16 persons having fully recovered on the island.
Update/Clarification: The percentage of persons tested in Mexico is much lower than many other places, with the government nothing that they're focusing on testing and caring for those who have more severe symptoms. Quintana Roo and West Palm Beach, FL have very similar populations, and if we compare then the total deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Palm Beach County (315), to those in Quintana Roo (291), then we see a somewhat more clear picture.
When will Cozumel be ready to accept cruisers?
Mayor Pedro Joaquín Delbouis realizes they need to be ready as soon as cruise lines are – and depending on the contagion curve, the US CDC (as the majority of cruisers in the Caribbean are from the US), and other factors, that could be as early as July or August. Some procedures to re-open the island will start as early as June 1st though, with the acknowledgement that the pace of re-opening will be dependent how many new COVID-19 cases they see as changes are made.
It’s Critical for the Local Economy
When cruisers set sail, it’s important that Cozumel is ready so that the local economy can see activity again. "Ninety percent of the residents of Cozumel live on tourism, and we have the responsibility of overseeing that sanitary guidelines are followed, for example the hotels will have to disinfect the rooms, reduce their capacity below 50 percent and provide masks and gloves to tourists.” said Mayor Joaquín Delbouis. For the 90% depending on tourism, most depend on cruise ships, with 70% of visitors to the island coming from cruise ships.
The first phase of openings on the island will start June 1st, which is aimed at small businesses, and includes protocols for businesses that are enforceable by fines. Those not in compliance, Mayor Joaquín Delbouis notes, such as not wearing a face mask when required, will be subject to fines starting at $800MXN. That’s about $35, which is significant in a city where the average salary is just $9,300USD/year.
"I follow the example of the mayors who made responsible decisions and acted in time, their municipalities will recover soon and return to the new normal," Mayor Joaquín Delbouis hopefully concluded.
It's remarkable the small number of cases the island has seen (about 10% of what we see in our similarly-sized town in S FL), and we hope for the sake of travelers and residents they can keep things under control. Any tourism-based economy finds itself in a tight spot these days. Like many, we're looking very forward to getting back to cruising, and Cozumel, for many reasons, feels like a home away from home for us. As I researched this post I realized that whenever we do get to head back (so far it's looking like August), I might get a bit teary-eyed as we walk the town, seeing locals we remember, stopping at Coz Coffee in Parque Benito Juarez, and thinking about just how difficult life on tourism-dependent island must be when almost everything comes to a stop.
*Statistics pulled from Cruise Lines International Association and Servicios Estatales de Salud Quintana Roo (Quintana Roo State Health Services). Alcaldes De México article and interview available here. Quotes and other information were originally stated and provided in Spanish and translated to English.