By the end of January 2021, Aruba recorded a total of 6,966 confirmed cases of COVID-19, there were 341 active cases and 59 deaths. Curaçao COVID-19 infections reached 4,585 positive cases, 68 active cases and 21 deaths. While the incidence of new cases was on the decline in Trinidad and Tobago (TT) during December 2020, the number of new daily positive COVID-19 cases arose in mid-January with the country recording 7,564 positive tests to date, 262 active cases and 134 deaths. Guyana registered 7,641 total cases, 719 active cases and 172 deaths, and the Dominican Republic (DR) noted another spike with 214,060 total confirmed cases, 53,861 active cases with 2,666 deaths. The Caribbean Sub-region continued to be negatively impacted by the effects of the pandemic and mitigating measures including mask-wearing and physical distancing continued to be enforced, to prevent the spread of the virus. Socio-economic impacts resulting in loss of livelihoods, increased basic needs related to shelter/rent, utilities, food and NFIs, continued to be noted throughout the sub-region. Vaccination plans were presented in sub-regional countries, as stakeholders awaited the arrival of the vaccines, and Aruba, Curaꞔao and Guyana confirmed that refugees and migrants would be included in their national immunization plans.
In January 2021 Venezuela recorded its lowest level of oil in 77 years. Because the country's economy is closely tied to exports in the industry, this reduction is expected to further deteriorate the socio- economic situation that has already compelled millions of its citizens to leave.
In the Caribbean Sub-Region, Aruba closed its borders with Brazil due to later’s rise in COVID-19 cases, and Island-wide measures to further maintain the health and safety of visitors and locals were implemented. All establishments were required to close by 10:00 p.m. As of 12 January, Curaçao officials also amended entry requirements for all travellers. However, officials removed the limit of 20,000 international tourists per month, and regular international travel re-started. Travel exemption requests and quarantine requirements for travellers from high-risk countries were discontinued. Starting on 15 January, Venezuelans were required to apply for a visa in Caracas before being allowed to enter both Aruba and Curaꞔao. In Aruba, there were exemptions only for travellers in transit, on business, on short stays at the port, and for those with permanent residence from some North American and European countries. However, borders with Venezuela remain closed, until further notice. Return flights from Aruba to Venezuela continue to operate on a monthly basis, although no regular schedule has been established. On 31 January, a repatriation flight departed Aruba for Venezuelan, with 142 Venezuelans onboard.
In Aruba and Curaçao Venezuelans accessed food e-vouchers through the Government/Red-Cross distribution campaign, coordinated by R4V partners. The Kingdom of the Netherlands has committed to continue funding this project until April. In Aruba, this supports at least 15% of the population who depend on Red Cross Food Vouchers Assistance, including refugees and migrants in an irregular status. In Curaçao, the number of refugees and migrants requesting food and shelter assistance remained high.
In Aruba, electricity company (ElMAR) workers threatened to protest against a 12% reduction of salaries. Furthermore, additional Venezuelans requested help to pay for utilities (water and electricity), as they risked an interruption of services. A CBS (Statistics department) report published in January, indicated the minimum wage requirement in 2020 for a single individual to live was 2,226 florins (around 1,237 USD) and for a family of two adults and two children was 4,759 florins (some 2,644 USD); while in 2019, these stood at 2,266 and 4329 florins respectively. The indicator, though lower for an individual in 2020 was notably higher for a family unit with children and suggests that costs related to children might drive up the indicator. Noteworthy is that unregistered Venezuelans struggle to obtain the minimum wage. Moreover, partners reported more requests for psychosocial support related to Gender-based Violence (GBV), underscoring observed gaps in law enforcement’s gender sensitivity techniques, especially related to interviews on crimes against women.
Separately, positive statements were made by the PM Rhuggenaath in Curaçao on the migration policy plans, which will consider some form of accommodation for undocumented Venezuelans and those in an irregular status who are already on the island and thus should open the door for Venezuelans and other undocumented persons to contribute to the host society and to integrate.
The DR government published the operational resolution to establish a regularization /normalization pathway for Venezuelans. Resolution N° 00119-2021,made public on 22 January, represents a positive step towards allowing Venezuelans who regularly entered the country between January 2014 and March 2020 to apply for the migratory category of non-resident and obtain work and student stay permits. January 2021 also marked a ban of child marriages in the country, amid fear of a global rise. Additionally, the local press highlighted that the pandemic affected not only the health of citizens and businesses, but also the local currency. In 2020, the Dominican peso faced its worst blow in 15 years with an exchange rate depreciation of 10.13% last year, moving from 52.96 pesos for every dollar at the end of 2019 to 58.32 pesos for every US dollar at the end of 2020.
Guyana’s International airports became fully operational, requiring that COVID-19 PCR tests be done within three days before departing and entering Guyana. Furthermore, schools partially re-opened for children preparing for exams. Subsequently, 45 students and 13 teachers tested positive for the virus; many were asymptomatic and were quarantined to prevent further spread. The local population continued to breach curfews with reports on bars and restaurants operating without permission. Several villages saw spikes in COVID cases and remain under strict monitoring by the Ministry of Health2. More health supplies are needed to combat the rise in infection cases, particularly as monitoring schools, teachers and students remains challenging, since many of them use public transportation and are from areas currently showing spikes in transmission. In the later part of January, the Venezuelan Navy detained two vessels that were fishing in Guyana’s exclusive economic zone, the latest dispute in a long-running border dispute between the two South American nations.
Trinidad and Tobago’s borders remained closed to commercial flights throughout January, although chartered flights continue to be permitted. Persons entering the country must provide a PCR negative test dated no more than 72 hours before their flight into the country. Schools will be re-opened on a phased basis, starting with students who must undertake exam preparations. Although borders remained closed indefinitely, it was announced that Royal Caribbean Cruises scheduled a return trip to Trinidad and Tobago for its 2021/2022 cruise season. On 21 January 2021, Trinidad and Tobago confirmed its first case of the UK COVID-19 Variant. Moreover, on 22 January, a T&T Judge ruled that a Venezuelan mother could challenge a deportation order signed by the Minister of National Security on 14 January.