Doctors say airlines should know COVID-19 status of passengers

THE Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) has raised objection to tourists and other non-nationals coming into the island, as of June 15, without being required to undergo testing for COVID-19.

In a statement yesterday, the MAJ said it is “categorically opposed to tourists coming to our shores without mandatory testing. We advise the Government to revisit this issue and to stay on a path that incorporates sound medical principles”.

MAJ President Dr Andrew Manning warned against the abandonment of sound public health principles which have so far steered the country through the pandemic, resulting in a relatively low number of cases.

He pointed to the significant expenditure and resources by the Government, and the sacrifices of the Jamaican citizenry to control the spread of the disease, cautioning that deviation from public health principles will likely result in a reversal of the gains made in the last three months.

Dr Manning pointed to the probability of flight exposure. “For tourism to remain viable, from an economic point of view, planes must fly with a full complement of passengers. Such passengers must be in close proximity to one another and these conditions can potentially lead to the spread of the disease to many persons,” he said.

The MAJ president argued that if an asymptomatic positive case person is preparing to board a flight, it would be in the best interest of the airline to know this status, “not to mention the peace of mind of the persons having to travel on that plane, and the peace of mind of the hotel workers who are going to receive these guests”.

He said this can be done if international conventions agree to have persons who are going to travel overseas be included in a cohort of persons with easy access to PCR testing.

Dr Manning said these testing points can be established, and if the persons test negative they can then be issued with a ‘COVID-19 travel passport’, which would be vetted by airline personnel prior to the boarding of the plane.

He further pointed out that in the weeks ahead, tourist destinations will be divided into two groups based on whether their visitors have not or have been tested for COVID-19, and in the months ahead these same groups could be identified by whether the destination has experienced a surge in cases or has remained relatively free of the disease. “Jamaica, if only from a tourism marketing standpoint, should aim to be in the latter group,” he stated.

Dr Manning said while the MAJ recognises that the economy must be reopened, including to returning Jamaicans and visitors, the reopening must be done in a manner that includes adherence to sound public health principles.

The Nurses’ Association of Jamaica has also raised concerns over the non-mandatory COVID-19 testing regime for visitors to the island, warning that the island’s public health system could be placed under significant burden if an outbreak results from the anticipated influx of persons coming into the island.

The Government closed the island’s borders closed to incoming air and sea passenger traffic on March 24, and reopened on May 22 to allow controlled re-entry of Jamaicans.

On June 1 Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced broad reopening of the country, starting with its immediate reopening to Jamaicans, and to non-nationals as of June 15.

He also advised that visitors will not be tested for the virus or be quarantined unless they show symptoms. He said the country is incapable of testing every non-national who will be arriving on or after June 15. Holness said the country was already showing signs of the worst economic setback in more than 40 years, and that it was therefore imperative to get the economy back to full productive capacity as quickly as possible.

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