Ah, the classic holiday retreat. Most of us are forced indoors by the cold, working from home, just counting the days to normality. Maybe a vacation in Barbados sounds nice?
Hold your horses – or reindeer. As I wrote in my last article, Barbados has a clever system that is supposed to minimize your time stuck in quarantine.
Unfortunately, that system has its limits. And they have been reached.
There’s mounting evidence of people experiencing increasing wait times and being stuck in quarantine FAR longer than the Barbadian government website lists: “Results are typically available 12-24 hours after your second PCR test”.
We personally flew to Barbados and talked to some people who had been here over a week, still chained to their hotel property (and sometimes not allowed the exit the room).
Unlike other islands (like St. Lucia and Dominica), Barbados does not offer “safe in nature” excursions to keep you sane during your quarantine. Instead, they ask you to stay in your room, or be fined upwards of $10,000.
Why Are the Tests Taking So Long? – The Culprit
After a massive spike in cases related to a boxing-day “bus crawl”, the government of Barbados clamped down on ample testing and contact tracing.
They conducted tens of thousands of tests all at once, with priority to those with contact to anyone who was part of the bus crawl.
Unfortunately, Barbados only has one lab on the island, and there’s only so much personnel they can deploy to examine the tens of thousands of tests.
The isolation facilities are nearly-full, so if you end up testing positive, get ready to stay in a cramped facility surrounded by other sick people.
Just How Long Are the Tests Taking?
Tourists have recently reported waiting a week or more for their test results, but the official answer is “48 to 72 hours or longer”. The “or longer” part is probably pretty accurate.
On travel forums, there are people on their 8th+ day of waiting for their results from the second PCR-test. Apparently, the government has set up a designated hotline for problems like this, but the workers operating the hotline were not informed of the hotline – meaning that you’ll be SOL.
This means that, even if you got tested 3 days prior to heading to Barbados (as I suggested in my last article about avoiding quarantine in the Caribbean), and manage to secure your second test right at 48 hours prior after arrival (the minimum), you will likely end up quarantining for 7-10 days.
Keep in mind that you may NOT leave the island (even if you have a scheduled flight) until you receive your negative results, meaning you could be paying hundreds of dollars a night to stay in a hotel and never get to go to the beach.
Worse, if you’ve scheduled a flight that you cannot take due to slow results, you may end up paying change fees, and/or a massive last-minute fare differences.
What You Can Do To Save Yourself From “Paradise Prison”
Barbados travel restrictions include the option of transiting, including an overnight stay if needed to catch a flight the next day.
Since our flights to Barbados were both delayed and we got stranded there, we ended up staying in a “COVID-approved” hotel for the night and leaving the next day on a small turboprop plane to another island.
It’s a pretty simple process; you’ll get a yellow “in-transit” wristband that allows you to leave the island the next day instead of being stuck waiting a week for test results.
We ended up flying to Dominica – which, yes, does require you to quarantine 5 to 7 days, but at least you’re allowed to participate in a plethora of approved “safe in nature” activities. It’s probably the best Caribbean island to visit right now.
If planning to connect/transit, make sure to include extra time. Even if transiting, a negative PCR test is required, and it takes a long time for personnel to check all of your documents.
Does Barbados Have a High Number of COVID Cases?
Like everything in life, it’s all relative.
You may consider that over 300 active cases seems high for an island. But you should also consider that this is after ample contact tracing and tens of thousands of PCR tests. All of the positive cases found were placed in isolation facilities.
Positivity rates are what matter when it comes to testing, and in Barbados, they are well under 1% (as opposed to 5-15% in the US and many countries in Europe).
Barbados also has protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and let’s face it – you’re not going to Barbados to spend time stuck inside.
However, relative to other islands like Dominica, St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, or the BVI, which mostly have single-digit numbers of active cases, Barbados may seem higher risk. It’s up to you.
In two weeks, I suspect that active cases will have returned back to a lower number in Barbados, and test results timing will return to normal.