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Outbreaks halt economic reactivation in parts of Costa Rica

June 12, 2020

Costa Rica’s efforts to revitalize its economy through domestic tourism have been hampered as the National Emergency Commission (CNE) declares orange alerts for parts of the country.

The alert was issued last week for the cantons of Pococí and Upala, and the districts of Peñas Blancas, Cañas, Bebedero, Las Juntas, Los Chiles and La Fortuna. Wednesday, the district of Paquera was added to the ever-growing list.

Even as the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) begins to promote domestic vacations, the orange alerts have effectively shut down that sector in several tourism-heavy towns.

Commercial businesses can’t open on weekends, evening driving is banned, and — in perhaps the most impactful change affecting domestic tourism — hotels largely cannot operate in locations under orange alerts.

“We are in a phase in which, if we stray, we could have widespread community transmission, but we can still have control of the situation,” Claudia Rosales, a regional director of the Health Ministry, explained to San Carlos Digital.

But the restrictions extend what many in the tourism sector call the “Zero Season” due to the lack of visitors — both foreign and domestic.

The Arenal Tourism Chamber estimates some 10,000 employees in the region have been affected by the reapplied coronavirus restrictions.

“The alert has managed to close the small stream of employment that we had recovered thanks to the reopening of hotels,” Tadeo Morales, vice president of the Arenal Tourism Chamber, told La Nación.

“Officially, we have entered a crisis without precedent since we have 10,000 employees who depend on tourism and who have gone three months without an income.”

The Arenal Tourism Chamber argues that while San Carlos, the canton in which La Fortuna is located, now has more active coronavirus cases than anywhere else in Costa Rica, the outbreak is far enough away that tourist activities need not be affected.

And La Fortuna isn’t alone. The orange alerts contain many other towns popular with tourists, including Bijagua (Upala) and Tortuguero (Pococí).

For many businesses in those districts, long-sought economic reactivation will have to wait.

“Families dependent on tourism lost all of their income,” reads a donation campaign organized in La Fortuna. “Many workers have been laid off while others have been furloughed.

“We look forward to the day we can welcome our friends back to this place we love.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said hotels could not operate in locations under an orange alert. While this is mostly true, there are some exceptions, such as for hotels that are housing foreign tourists who are already in Costa Rica.

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