$64-MILLION return bill

THE Government is to spend $64 million to quarantine 330 Jamaicans who are to arrive in the island this week under its controlled re-entry programme.

Included in the group are the 43 Jamaicans who were stranded aboard the Marella Discovery 2 cruise ship — now docked in Southampton, England — who did not make it into the country despite being in Jamaican waters on April 2. They form part of the 75 Jamaican cruise ship workers who are to be repatriated by way of a TUI Airways charter flight tomorrow.

An additional 40 Jamaicans, who have also been stranded in the United Kingdom and who have indicated that they are facing hardship, are expected to arrive on that flight.

An undisclosed number of Jamaicans who are currently in the United States and have indicated hardship should also arrive this week.

The announcement was made by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith at last evening’s COVID-19 virtual press conference at Jamaica House in St Andrew.

“State quarantine, which is mandatory for persons returning [and] is the policy at this time, is not free to taxpayers. It comes at a negotiated cost of US$100 per day, per person, inclusive of accommodation and three meals per day. I know you’ll agree that this is a significant cost to bear. I know you’ll agree that, at this time, it is important for our nationals who are experiencing challenges overseas to come home, and this is the compromise now being struck — balancing the rights with, of course, the public health risk,” said Johnson Smith.

She also noted that it is in this context that Jamaicans applying to re-enter the island are required to make a contribution of US$20 per day or make family arrangements to cover meals while at Government quarantine facilities.

“It is, however, decided, and has been decided by the Cabinet, that in recognition of the particular challenges, the particularities of this week’s arrivals and the circumstances under which they have been operating over the past two months, that the Government will absorb the full cost of State quarantine. So this week’s arrivals will be supported in their entirety by the Jamaican Government,” she stated, adding that the $64-million quarantine tag is a significant cost that is not to be downplayed.

Asked to give a breakdown of the figure, the minister said that the money will cover a negotiated package for room, food, and sanitation process.

“What I have not mentioned are the other logistical costs — the cost of the security, the security forces to transport them there; the testing; [and] the health monitoring that takes place, the temperature taking every day at the appropriate times, the logging, the monitoring to ensure that if there is, in fact, any development of symptoms that person is then moved to isolation facilities. It’s all of the costs that go into ensuring that there is an end-to-end process — not to mention all of the preparation work that’s taking place now to receive them. Those are not covered by the $64-million, that’s simply the cost of accommodation and food per day, per person,” Johnson Smith explained.

The controlled re-entry programme was triggered by the closure of Jamaica’s air and sea ports to incoming passenger traffic on March 24. The move was designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 locally, which has so far been tallied at 471 cases, with 49 recoveries and nine deaths.

The Government has since revised its position to accepting Jamaicans under controlled re-entry arrangements, between April 22 and May 31, as set out in the Disaster Risk Management Act.

Just over 4,600 Jamaicans have so far applied to return home through the Government’s immigration portal at jamcovid19.moh.gov.jm

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