Stakeholders welcome COVID-19 testing of visitors

MONTEGO BAY, St James — President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Omar Robinson has welcomed the Government’s about-turn on its previous stance to allow visitors entry into the island without testing for COVID-19, but he warned that conflicting signals could perplex stakeholders in the international market.

“It is, therefore, unfortunate that the decision to test all incoming passengers follows a prior announcement that no such blanket requirement was required,” Robinson said in a release yesterday. “A lack of timely and concise communications serves only to confuse the market and discredit the hard work of all involved in trying to reopen our economy…”

The JHTA president reiterated the association’s support “of the safe and careful opening of our borders and has committed to and advocated for the implementation of safety protocols in all private and public spaces, including our hotels and tourist facilities”.

“With this new testing regime, along with the already announced tourism protocols, we believe Jamaica has provided a multi-layer strategy to mitigate risks for tourism workers, the wider Jamaican community, and, of course, our visitors,” he said.

Robinson noted that it has always been the position of all tourism stakeholders that pre-testing for COVID-19 be done for all visitors and residents alike.

“While we appreciate the many moving parts the Government is managing to contain the pandemic, we believe it is vital for a streamlined approach to be taken for not only the introduction of protocols for the tourism sector, but also an effective communications strategy,” the JHTA president said. “These are important, particularly relative to when and what we say to guide the global travel trade community of our country’s policy related to entry and testing.”

Earlier this week, the Government announced that all tourists will be subjected to compulsory testing for COVID-19 on arrival, reversing its previous stance that, as of June 15, arrivals, including tourists, other visitors, and Jamaicans, will not be tested for the novel coronavirus unless they show symptoms.

The Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) and the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) were among those who registered their disapproval with the protocol.

Yesterday, NAJ President Carmen Johnson said she expected the Government to have listened to the concerns raised.

“Having done as well as we did to control the spread of COVID-19 within our country and to ensure that our health care delivery system remained available and able to meet the needs of the populace, I had no doubt that they would have recognised that we still need to ensure that we are able to continue to meet the needs of the populace by safeguarding the health and welfare of, not only those who are coming in, but of the entire Jamaican populace, and we just had to do the right thing,” she said.

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton disclosed that, for now, Government will foot all costs associated with the testing of tourists, who are expected to start arriving in the island as of June 15.

“The Government will continue to absorb the costs, for now anyway. We haven’t taken any decision of paying for it, except the Government,” Dr Tufton told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

He also confirmed that the country has the capacity to undertake testing for the roughly 6,000 tourists expected to arrive here by the end of this month.

He said, too, that preparation is under way to facilitate the testing of visitors on arrival at the country’s airports, adding that the same protocol in place for the treatment of Jamaicans will be used for visitors.

“If someone is positive, then clearly the protocol is triggered to treat them as how we would treat any Jamaican. They will be isolated, they will be treated until they get better — depending on whether they are symptomatic or asymptotic.

“If they are asymptomatic, it means it’s more an issue of keeping them out of ‘harm’s way’. If they are symptomatic, clearly it is hospital,” he said. “If they are asymptomatic they will be placed in a facility that does not expose them to others.”

In this first phase of reopening, which is from June 15-30, tourists will be restricted to a “COVID-19 resilient corridor”, extending from Negril in the west, along the country’s north coast, to Portland in the east.

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