Dominican Republic eliminates mandatory pre-testing, launches new assistance plan

Minister says 8 tourism deaths in D.R. not unusual

SANTO DOMINGO — The D.R.’s tourism minister has weighed in on the deaths of eight U.S. tourists in the D.R. this year, saying the deaths are not part of a mysterious wave of fatalities but a medically and statistically normal phenomenon that has been lumped together by the U.S. media.

Autopsies show the tourists died of natural causes, Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia told reporters. He said five of the autopsies are complete, and three are undergoing further toxicological analysis with the help from the FBI because of the circumstances of the deaths.

With some 3.2 million U.S. tourists visiting the D.R. last year, he said, it’s not unusual for eight people to die while on vacation over any six-month period. Dominican officials say they are confident the three deaths still under investigation were also from natural causes.

“We want the truth to prevail,” Garcia said. “There is nothing to hide here.”

The Dominican government has been criticized for not being more forthcoming about the details of the death investigations.

They “probably have some indication of what it could be or what it might not be,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases and critical care doctor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. But officials have been “very opaque” about their findings.

“The longer they keep everybody in suspense, the worst it’s going to be for the Dominican Republic, especially when they’re so dependent on tourism. Because the longer this goes on unexplained, the longer people are going to be leery of going there,” Adalja said.

Garcia said the number of U.S. tourist deaths in the D.R. dropped 56% from 2016 to 2018, although he did not provide further numbers or details. The U.S. State Department also discounted the idea of a surge of tourist deaths, saying the agency had not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen who died there.

Garcia showed reporters a summary of pathologists’ findings in each death but declined to share the autopsy reports, saying they are not public records and that only the families could authorize their release.

In response to public concerns, authorities are increasing internal security measures at hotels as well as increased control over food and beverages, but only as a preventive measure, Garcia said.

“We’re very sorry for the families’ grief,” he said. But “there is no wave of mysterious deaths.’

Meanwhile CNN reports that at Hard Rock Resort Punta Cana, where two of the deaths took place, liquor dispensers are being removed from guest room mini-bars. At least one of the deaths in the D.R. occurred after a guest had a drink from the mini-bar.