KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent and the Grenadines — A volcano in the southern Caribbean that had been dormant for decades erupted on Friday, spewing clouds of ash and smoke miles into the sky.
The volcano, known as La Soufrière, on the northern tip of the main island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, had started showing signs of renewed activity in late December. It moved into an “explosive state” on Friday morning, the National Emergency Management Organization said in a Twitter posting.
thanks to a hastily arranged evacuation of residents to local beaches. Its ash reached as far as Barbados, 100 miles east. An earlier eruption, in 1902, killed nearly 1,700 people.
Cecilia Jewett, 72, a roads supervisor with the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said she suffered through the 1979 eruption and recalled the scenes of panic and the desperate scramble for water, the sky darkened by ash and the overpowering stench of sulfur. Her father, she said, experienced the deadly 1902 event, and told stories of victims buried in ash, and corpses lying in the streets.
“Those stories come back to my mind on hearing that the La Soufrière was acting up,” she recalled when interviewed last December. “It’s just too much. These young people would not understand. They think it’s just an explosion.”
“The sulfur, what it does to your eyes, your breathing, your very existence,” she continued. “It was a time I would not want to relive.”
Government officials began conducting outreach last winter in areas closest to the volcano, briefing residents on evacuation protocols in case of an eruption, Mr. Gonsalves said in an interview in January.
The prime minister acknowledged then the challenges of conducting emergency operations during the pandemic but said that strict health protocols — like the obligatory use of masks and social distancing where possible — would be in place during evacuations and in shelters.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a population of 110,000 spread across three dozen islands. Most people live around the capital, Kingstown, on the southwestern coast of St. Vincent island. Though known as a boaters’ paradise, the country also has high rates of poverty and unemployment.
Ernesto Cooke reported from Kingstown, and Oscar Lopez from Mexico City.
“Unvaccinated children would still need to quarantine for five days, and the parents, of course, must stay with the child,” said Eric Newman, who owns the travel blog Iceland With Kids. “Iceland’s brand-new travel regulations are not friendly to families hoping to visit with children.”
After a year of virtual schooling and working from home, parents have no desire to quarantine with their kids, said Anthony Berklich, the founder of the travel platform Inspired Citizen. “What these destinations are basically saying is you can come but your children can’t,” he said.
Instead, families are opting for warm-weather destinations closer to home.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in January that proof of a negative PCR test would be required of all air passengers arriving in the United States, many tropical resorts — including more than a dozen Hyatt properties — began offering not just free on-site testing, but a deeply discounted room in which to quarantine in case that test comes back positive. That move, said Rebecca Alesia, a travel consultant with SmartFlyer, has been a boon for family travel business.
“What happens if the morning you’re supposed to come home, you get up and Junior has a surprise positive test?” she said. “A lot of my clients have booked this summer because of this policy.”
For parents struggling to decide how and when to return to travel, there is good news on the horizon, said Dr. Shruti Gohil, the medical director of infection prevention at the University of California, Irvine.
“The chances of a good pediatric vaccine coming soon are high,” she said, noting that both Pfizer and Moderna are already running pediatric trials on their vaccines. “There is no reason to think that the vaccine will have any untoward effects on children that we haven’t already noted in adults.”
In the meantime, she said, parents with children need to continue to be cautious. That doesn’t mean families shouldn’t travel at all, but she recommends choosing to drive rather than fly; to not allow unvaccinated children to play unmasked with children from other households; and to remain vigilant about wearing masks and regularly washing hands while on the road.
This boom has been aided by the fact that since March 1, everyone over 16 has been eligible to get the vaccine in the Virgin Islands — so tourists don’t even have to worry about cutting in line. The territory accommodates about 100 walk-ins each day, too. “Nowhere else in the U.S. can you actually just walk in and get the vaccine, anybody over 16,” Mr. Bryan said on Monday. On March 1, the islands also opened two federally supported community vaccination centers on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
U.S. travelers also face less red tape when visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands compared with other Caribbean destinations. If they submit a negative coronavirus test within five days of leaving for the territory, or a positive antibody test taken within four months, they do not have to quarantine upon arrival. Travelers to Jamaica and Barbados, in contrast, are asked to quarantine no matter what. And U.S. travelers can’t visit the Cayman Islands unless they conform to strict eligibility criteria.
Dr. Hunte-Ceasar said that, at this point, the Department of Health did not consider vaccine tourism to be a problem. “We definitely want to ensure the local residents get vaccinated,” she said. But “we have not had any shortages by serving both populations.” The Virgin Islands currently have 27,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 18,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine, and 600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine available, said Monife Stout, the department’s immunization director.
Noreen Michael, a scientist at the University of the Virgin Islands who studies health disparities, agreed that it was crucial to ensure that vaccines are available to residents who want them, but said she had not seen evidence to suggest that tourists are taking vaccines away from residents who want them. “On the public health side, it’s a plus,” she said. “On the equity side, I don’t see it as significant issue.”
Perhaps, too, vaccine tourism could be used as a force for good — to secure doses for marginalized groups in other regions. Although the Virgin Islands provide free Covid-19 vaccines, the islands could charge tourists for their vaccines, and the funds could be used to send vaccines to regions that need them, said Felicia Knaul, an international health economist at the University of Miami. “Could we send those vaccines to Jamaica, or to the Dominican Republic or Haiti?” she asked. “Once you’ve gotten past the key welfare and human rights aspects, if you can use that funding to pay for people who right now have no access, I think it’s worth thinking about.”
For now, health authorities are focused on ways to reduce vaccine hesitancy in the territory. “People access misinformation and perpetuate lies and things that are harmful,” Dr. Hunte-Ceasar said in a news conference last week. As a result, the islands have been experiencing a surge in cases and hospitalizations that she said give her “chest pain and heartburn every night.” Although vaccine hesitancy does seem to be decreasing, residents will need to start widely embracing the vaccine if the islands are to meet their goal of vaccinating 50,000 Virgin Islanders by July 1.
In the meantime, visitors from the continental U.S. will continue to take advantage of the extra doses. Some have stayed longer than they planned, too — and have even contemplated moving to the islands for good.
“I started falling in love with the culture of St. Croix,” said Hemal Trivedi, a documentary filmmaker who lives in Weehawken, N.J., and was vaccinated in St. Croix in February. “Toward the end of the trip, we were actually looking for a place to buy.”