Gov’t steps up pace to have Jamaicans back home

THE Government has announced the broadening of protocols covering the return of Jamaicans to the island as it signals its intention to fully reopen the country’s borders to incoming passenger traffic and, by extension, the economy.

“We’re now deploying the same protocols and logistics that we utilise for the Royal Caribbean ship more broadly to facilitate the return of the over 8,000 Jamaicans who have applied to return on the Jamcovid system,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness told a virtual press briefing from Jamaica House in St Andrew last evening.

As a result, he said that the 14-day mandatory State quarantine, which has been in place since last month, will be discontinued. Instead, people arriving in Jamaica will be tested and facilitated at a State quarantine facility until their results are ready.

If their results are negative, Holness said, they will be allowed to complete quarantine at home.

“This will allow us to increase the rate and pace at which we can safely repatriate Jamaicans overseas who will be relying on air travel to get home,” he said, noting that the suitability of homes and living conditions will be assessed before that decision is taken.

He told the briefing that in order to speed up the assessment, a series of questions has been sent out for applicants on the Jamcovid immigration portal to respond to and submit.

The prime minister added that with the timely processing of ship workers, just under 1,500 of whom have so far returned to the country, the Administration is looking to exclusively focus its attention on Jamaicans returning to the island by air sometime after the first week in June.

At the same time, he said 220 Jamaicans will return to the island by air in the next seven days, 40 of whom are deportees from the United States.

“I want the public to clearly understand that our measures will continue to be guided by the evidence and the numbers. So, as we relax the measures and we increase the rate of repatriation of Jamaicans, even with the best will and the best implementation of the measures, we recognise that because of our limited resources and the constraint this places on our ability, that there is the possibility that our [COVID-19] numbers could rise,” said Holness. “We’ve seen it right across the globe that when repatriation of nationals takes place there is the likelihood of our numbers increasing,” he added.

Jamaica has 564 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 238 recoveries and nine deaths. This means that there are 309 active cases.

The prime minister said the country is about to enter into the 18-day doubling phase, which means that the potential rate of increase is reducing.

He cautioned, however, that if the numbers begin to rise again the Government will tighten restrictions. He warned Jamaicans returning to the island that they have a duty to follow the rules and measures in place and to follow them consistently to avoid spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said that in returning the economy to full capacity, the country’s borders must reopen at some time.

“We can’t continue to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. So the debate will ensue, I am sure, about whether or not it is time [or] we should wait. I wish to remind persons that we don’t want to survive the pandemic and die in the recession. So, we have to manage both things. We have to manage the [pandemic] and ensure that we do not have an extended recession. How well we manage the [pandemic] will also help us in managing the recession.

“So as we make gains with the [pandemic], and these gains we want them to be sustainable gains in people’s behaviour, we then use that as much as possible to increase our productivity. Get people back to work [and] get them back to work with the mentality of working safer and working smarter… If we open up when we open up and we get visitors in for tourism; visitors in for business we have to ensure that we have a strong monitoring mechanism. We have to ensure that we have a very wstrong policing mechanism and a strong public education mechanism, in addition to increased surveillance of the spread of the disease right throughout the country,” the prime minister explained.

The Government, he said, is very close to settling all the protocols and measures for opening up the borders and the economy.

– Kimone Francisw

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