Costly border opening

MORE than 20,000 people have applied to return to Jamaica, or to visit the island, since the controlled re-entry programme was introduced in April, while the nation continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Jamaica Observer sources say up to early this week the majority of the applications were from Jamaicans seeking to come home through the Jamcovid portal, but since the island started accepting visitors on Monday, there has been an increase in tourists applying through the Visit Jamaica portal.

The controlled entry will continue today with approximately 300 Jamaicans set to return home. They will arrive at Port Royal via two cruise vessels, Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas and the Disney Wonder.

A government multi-agency team led by minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Matthew Samuda, and supported by the relevant State agencies — the Port Authority of Jamaica, Jamaica Defence Force, Jamaica Constabulary Force, Ministry of Health and Wellness, Jamaica Customs Agency, and Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency — will process the returning Jamaicans.

All 300 will be processed using the established protocols for testing, sensitisation, and quarantine as would have obtained for all previous ship arrivals, including mandatory State quarantine, until their test results are available.

This will come at a major cost to the Government which has already spent some $1 billion testing, processing, and quarantining people who have entered the island.

Addressing a media briefing on Thursday, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dunstan Bryan underscored that getting people into the island at a time when the novel coronavirus pandemic is continuing, is a costly venture.

“It has cost us significantly because [of] the risk management that we have had to put in place to ensure that the population that is coming in does not impact the population that is here,” said Bryan, minutes after Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton had disclosed that one Jamaican who returned to the island after the borders were reopened on June 1, had transmitted the virus to three family members.

“The cost component had several elements to it. The cost of the operations at the airports, the cost to transport persons from the airport to holding facilities in the first instance, then the cost of testing the nearly over 4,000 persons who have been tested since we started to take back persons into the island,” added Bryan.

He noted that the cost for hotel accommodation alone is around $670 million, while the cost for the airport operation has run the Government close to $300 million.

“The cost for the tests has several components in and of itself. So you have the cost for the actual swab, then you have the cost for the reagents, then you have the cost of the time on the machine, but then you also have the cost of the people who need to operate all of these…” noted Bryan.

“Now the latest statistics say it’s around US$70 per test when we look at all of the components… and now that we are doing everyone the cost is elaborate,” added Bryan even as he noted that international partners have helped to defray some of the costs.

He said the costs have not been passed to the individuals who have arrived in the island because of the policy position that health provision is free at that point of delivery.

Against that background, Tufton urged Jamaicans to follow the rules as he argued that measures to prevent the spread of the virus and recent efforts to reopen the economy are all intended to ensure that the Government can “balance lives and livelihood”.

“I think it is important for Jamaicans to appreciate that they are paying for these tests, ultimately. Part of the economic challenge that we face as a country right now…is that resources which would have gone to roads and schools and other things have to be rechanneled for the public health response,” Tufton told the online media briefing.




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