Jamaicans praise treatment at quarantine facility

ST ANN — Comfortable rooms, on time meals, lots of food, pleasant and professional staff, are some of the descriptions repeated by individuals quarantined at the Jewels Paradise Cove Hotel in this north eastern Jamaica parish.

Junior M and Monique L are strangers who met on the bus that transported them from the Norman Manley International Airport on Wednesday, May 13, to the Government quarantine facility.

“I hear about the other hotel. I have friends who are staying there. Their experience is bad. But I blame it on bad management,” Junior shared with the Jamaica Observer.

He explained that he arrived in New York on March 11, with the intention of spending two weeks with his children in New Jersey. His original return date was March 24. However, upon hearing about Jamaica’s border closure, he rebooked his ticket on Caribbean Airlines to return on the 2:00 am flight on March 22. On his way to the airport, he received a call from the airline stating that the flight had been cancelled. Upon hearing that the Government extended the border closure to March 24, he tried to once more reschedule to get a seat on his original flight, but Caribbean Airlines said the flight had been cancelled as well, as the borders were closed.

“The ordeal was not anything I would wish on anybody,” Junior expressed. Sharing with the Sunday Observer that the period was a traumatic one for him, news of the numerous individuals who were dying as a result of the virus, compounded by the constant sounds of the sirens, as well as the lack of communication from Jamaica in terms of when they were going to be able to return home, gave him a feeling of despair.

After several tries to get in contact with the Jamaican consulate in New York, Junior’s hope was restored when he made contact with Ambassador Audrey Marks through a conference call. “She explained that the Government of Jamaica is working really hard to get us down. She continued to keep us posted, which I thought was very good. It eased our minds,” Junior detailed, saying that word finally came that communication had been made with all major airlines, as the Government tried to work out the logistics of getting them home.

Junior explained that the arrangements did not materialise as he expected as he had lost his fare when his flight was cancelled, the Government then announced that they would have to cover the cost of their own fare. “When I got the green light that I was one of the persons confirmed for the trip back to Jamaica, I was told to pay US$309.10. I have never worked in the USA so I did not have any money. I received a 50 per cent refund from Caribbean Airlines, which I had put aside because I was told I will have to pay US$20 per day for accommodation and meals when I returned. I just used it to book my flight and trust in the good Lord that something would work out, because I had to return to Jamaica.”

Junior said he stocked up on snacks and juices to keep him for three days just in case he was not provided for when he arrived. “They took my smoked ham at the airport though, but I still had one bag of snacks. I left some of my clothes behind so the food could hold.”

Neither Monique nor Junior are paying for any of the service they are receiving. According to both, all their basic needs are being met at no cost. They were made aware of this fact before they deplaned.

For many, this was a welcomed sigh of relief as they did not have any money to cover the service fee.

Monique L returned on the same flight as Junior. She got trapped in New York away from her family and was struggling to find meals each day. Both described the lengthy process as the only frustrating part of the experience, but stated that it was an unavoidable situation as there were a lot of people, and protocols had to be followed. They were greeted by a Ministry of Health team which briefed them before they deplaned, reassuring them that all their needs would be taken care of, and the processes that were to follow.

Once they completed the tedious task of clearing Customs, they were allowed to board the buses. Once on the bus, they were fed meals from Island Grill. There was another wait period before they started their journey towards the hotels. All the buses travelled in a convoy, escorted by police and military personnel. The first stop was at the Grand Bahia Principe, where they had to endure another lengthy wait period as persons disembarked and checked into that hotel. While there, they were told that 20 individuals would be sent to Jewels Paradise Cove, and the passengers on the bus that Monique and Junior were on all opted to go. It was another lengthy process of signing up forms and briefings before they were assigned their rooms.

“It was approximately 8:00 pm when I was assigned a room.” Monique told the Sunday Observer. “Persons with diabetes and hypertension were all given rooms before anyone else. I was fine with that. The only other challenge was the removal of the bags from the buses, but we got assistance from the soldiers who were present. Some persons complained and struggled with their bags themselves as maybe they were tired of waiting, but they had the option to wait. So I must thank the soldiers for assisting us.”

Both Monique and Junior stated that once they arrived at their rooms, their dinner was already at their doors. “It was cold,” Junior communicated, “but we took so long to get there, I could not complain, as maybe they expected us earlier. It tasted good though.”

Monique and Junior shared similar sentiments about the clean condition of the rooms. The refrigerators in the rooms were stocked with sodas and water. In addition, perculators with everything needed to make tea were also on hand.

Junior conveyed that “not everybody will say the same thing as me, but let me say I can’t be biased, I can’t blame the Government for nothing at all. They have done their best. I did not know how I was going to eat. I want to say to the prime minister that we appreciate what he has done, based on what he had to work with. And for all the persons that helped us to be here, thank you to all of them.”

Monique agreed, stating that “Aside from the lengthy wait period, the process was ‘seamless’. At the end of the day, we have to be understanding, because the Government could have decided to let us stay where we are and let us fend for ourselves. But they did not do that, they were gracious enough to accommodate us back into the country.”

She further stated that some of the uncomfortable parts of the journey were caused by some of the same returning residents, “The buses were a bit hot, to be honest. The [air condition] was on, but some of the persons still opened the windows, so it would not allow the AC to fully function the way it was supposed to.”

She expressed concern for her fellow travellers at Grand Bahia Principe, stating that she is sorry to hear what they are experiencing. Expressing that she has been treated with respect and their meals came on time, “We get a lot of food. I have boiled eggs and porridge saved in the fridge from yesterday as well as my dinner from last night, and it’s not because it wasn’t good, it’s because I had too much food to eat.”

Up to last evening neither Monique nor Junior had been tested for the novel coronavirus. However, they do temperatures checks every 12 hours.

While they are unable to leave their rooms and socialise, they are content with the treatment they have been receiving and what they described as the professionalism of the staff.

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