Empty beaches, closed hotels, unemployed people, is the devastating image that repeats itself over and over again in the paradisiacal Punta Cana, eastern Dominican Republic, a destination that suffers the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The famous El Cortecito beach, with fine sand, crystal clear waters and huge palm trees, is totally lonely in the middle of Easter, an unprecedented event for residents in the area, who live thanks to tourism, the main source of income in the Dominican Republic.
The image is replicated in the cozy Los Corales, where there are hardly any people, a picture of the harsh reality that tourist activity lives as a result of the closure of borders decreed in half the world to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
UNEMPLOYED BY THE CRISIS
In contrast are the always bustling streets of Verón, a municipality to which Punta Cana belongs, where people live day by day and try to survive after the closure of hotel facilities and restaurants, as well as the stoppage of construction works. by order of the National Executive.
There, in one of the battered streets of this municipality is Jairo Núñez, a waiter who was fired from the hotel where he worked in the Cap Cana complex hours before the country’s president, Danilo Medina, announced the state of emergency on 17 of March.
Along with him, four other colleagues were fired, a measure that, according to Efe, “should not have been” although “there are many companies that do it because they have the power to do so.”
Núñez, the father of a child, had been working at the resort for just over a month, so the compensation they gave him after being canceled is already running out.
He got a job as a security in a company, but his mother, who lives in the United States, advised him not to take it to avoid any type of contagion, so he promised to help him financially to alleviate his situation a little.
A similar case is going through José Manuel Encarnación, 40, who for seven years has been dedicated to parking vehicles in the restaurants that border El Cortecito beach.
In these tasks, he told Efe, he earned between 300 and 400 pesos (between 5.5 and 7 dollars) a day, which, he says, were enough to support him because he has no children or partner.
After the crisis, he narrates, he had to resort to “something” that he had saved, resources that he also already consumed, which is why he is now maintaining himself thanks to the solidarity of some people.
For this man, the situation is “very difficult”, but he prefers to thank “God” because “we are alive”.
The crisis equally punishes José Raúl Polanco, 51, a fisherman who, according to Efe, had not seen a similar situation in Punta Cana “nor in the two strong” cyclones that have affected the country in recent years, in allusion to George (1998) and Matthew (2016).
Polanco’s main clients are the restaurants and residents of this area who, he argues, do not even dare to leave their homes for fear of the pandemic, which in the particular case of the country has left 126 dead and 2,620 infected.
“We had become accustomed to living from tourism, but we have to be in accordance with God, with what is happening,” he stresses.
Long before the start of the coronavirus crisis, the Dominican tourism sector accumulated bad data since mid-2019, due to the repercussion of the negative news that dealt with the death of several American tourists in Punta Cana hotels, all for reasons of health, according to the authorities.
Between January and February, this sector accentuated its downward trend and registered a 9.0% drop in the number of foreign travelers, but that is nothing compared to what is expected by the coronavirus.
The Governor of the Central Bank, Héctor Valdez Albizu, said on March 18 that tourism would lose some 400 million dollars if the situation created by the pandemic extends beyond the month of June.
Frank Rainieri, president of Grupo Puntacana, has warned that both the country and companies in the sector “will suffer the consequences” of the blow to tourism, which will lead to “a difficult situation for everyone”, although he predicted that “with a lot of work and much effort “, the country will come out” triumphant “.
The Puntacana Group, a pioneer in the tourism sector in the country, owns numerous hotels and the Punta Cana airport, the main air terminal in this nation.
In late February, the Dominican government banned flights from the Italian city of Milan, to prevent the spread of the virus, and fifteen days later announced the same for the rest of Europe, China, South Korea and Iran for the same reasons.
Finally, on March 19, it entered into force in a state of emergency decreed by the coronavirus, which included the closure of the borders by land, sea and air.
To try to lessen the situation caused by the crisis, the Central Bank has announced a series of economic measures, including an injection of $ 229.4 million for the productive sectors, including tourism.
Although they have not given official data on cancellations or suspensions in the sector, government figures indicate that more than 655,000 workers, about 28% of formal employees in the Dominican Republic, have been temporarily suspended since mid-March.