WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haiti reopened its two international airports in Port-au-Prince and Cape Haitian, as well as four official border crossings in Anse-a-Pitres, Malpasse, Belladere and Ouanaminthe on Tuesday.
President Jovenel Moïse announced the news in a national address.
The airports closed to all nonlocal flights on March 16 to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but exceptions were made for some nonlocal flights, including to fly people who were stuck in Haiti back to their home countries.
Officials told VOA that safety measures are in place to limit vehicular traffic in and around the airport, with special attention paid to passenger pick-up and drop-off zones. Agents will limit the number of passengers around airline check-in counters and security check points. Face masks are mandatory.
“Security agents will accompany passengers going through immigration, where we placed signs indicating where they should stand in adherence with social distancing measures,” Joseph Frantz Sedras, director of equipment for Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, told VOA Creole.
Protective glass barriers are in place at all agent counters, and procedures are in place to keep passenger lines moving forward.
Sedras told VOA that social distancing will be mandated at every step of the departure and arrival process and that security agents will search passengers and their luggage before they reach the immigration area. In addition, counters and equipment will be disinfected often, he said.
“When the passenger reaches the departure lounge, he/she will be allowed to occupy every other seat in accordance with social distancing guidelines,” Sedras said. “These measures will be mandated throughout the departure lounge.”
Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed throughout the airport for passenger and employee use.
Haiti currently has 5,933 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data published by the published health ministry on June 29. That number is an increase of more 1,000 cases since June 20 when the confirmed infection toll stood at 4,916. The current death toll is 105.
Health officials say the hardest-hit regions are the northeast, west and Artibonite departments, but there is speculation that the toll could be higher nationwide, where fear of stigmatization keeps people from seeking medical treatment.
Travelers from the Haitian diaspora are essential to the country’s economy, according to Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe. During a visit to the Port-au-Prince airport before its reopening, he told VOA Creole he recognizes their desire to tend to property, as well as attending annual religious festivals.
“I can’t keep them from coming to dance at the festivals. And if the airport in Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic) is open and we are not, Haitians will find a way to get here somehow,” he said.
With regards to the pandemic and its spread, the prime minister said he consulted the country’s top health experts on a timeline but was not given an answer.
“Community transmission is an issue. There are many people who say they have a fever or a cold, they insist it’s not corona(virus). But we know how Haitians are. I guess if I had it, I would say I didn’t, too. So, all we can do is reinforce the security measures and preventative measures already in place,” he said.
Jouthe said hand washing and wearing masks are a necessity, even though they are not always comfortable.
Opposition Sen. Jean Renel Senatus told VOA that he, too, understands there are people who need to travel to Haiti to deal with important matters, but he doubts the government’s information about the current COVID-19 situation.
He also expressed concern about the surge in U.S. cases.
“We’ve heard that cases are spiking in Miami. And most of the planes arriving in Haiti are coming from Miami, Florida,” the senator said.
Eleven flights are scheduled to arrive in Haiti on July 1, according to FlightRadar24, a website that tracks air traffic worldwide in real time. Among those, five flights from U.S. carriers American Airlines, Spirit and JetBlue departing from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida and New York City, are due to arrive between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. local time.