Charging tourists for COVID-19 tests under review

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says while it is too early to say whether tourists will be asked to pay for COVID-19 testing done upon their arrival at the country’s ports, the matter is being reviewed.

Speaking with members of the media at the Sangster International Airport here on Monday afternoon, Tufton disclosed that while tourists, over the next two weeks, will not be required to pay for COVID-19 tests, the issue is currently being discussed by a subcommittee of Cabinet.

“There is a subcommittee of Cabinet, chaired by the prime minister, which involves myself and Minister [Edmund] Bartlett, and we will review… in the days to come, and then will determine exactly what the next step will be,” he said.

“As of now, we have not charged anyone, the Government has taken on the responsibility. Personally, I don’t foresee that that will happen, but then, I don’t want to second-guess a process that we have established; it has worked well so far,” Dr Tufton added.

The minister visited the Montego Bay airport on Monday to observe the more than 100 health workers whose job it was to sensitise and test passengers arriving in the island on the first day of the phased reopening of the tourism sector.

More than 500 passengers from the United States of America were welcomed to the island for the first time since the borders were closed to all incoming travellers on March 24 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Jamaica recorded its first verified case of the novel coronavirus on March 10.

Tufton was unable, on Monday, to give a price tag for the testing and logistical arrangements put in place at the airport to facilitate the return of visitors to the islands shores.

“The Government has never shunned away from taking decisions that involve cost when it comes to managing this process. That’s one thing I can say. I have never gone to the Cabinet, to the prime minister to ask for resources, as it relates to the COVID-19 challenge and risk, and been turned away… The cost is more in the time and the effort, but I think we have a dedicated set of citizens, persons in public health and all the other agencies, and we are all committed to the cause,” Tufton told the Jamaica Observer.

“We are not counting the pennies yet, because right now it is about getting the process right,” he added.

For his part, Bartlett said almost 8,000 tourists and Jamaicans alike are expected to arrive in the island this week. A gradual increase is expected by July, he said, adding that he expects the numbers to further increase for November and December.

President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Omar Robinson said while most hotels will reopen in July, Hotel RIU Ocho Rios, Moon Palace Jamaica Resort and Spa in Ocho Rios, and Deja Resort Montego Bay reopened for guests on Monday, while Sandals Montego Bay Resort in Montego Bay and Beaches Negril Resort and Spa in Negril were expected to open yesterday.

He added that the S Hotel in St James never closed its doors.

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