‘They steal the joy’

AS the Government moves to process the recently repatriated cruise ship workers from the Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas and reunite them with their families, for many relatives the return has been bittersweet.

“I was so glad to hear my husband was gonna be coming home,” a now-distraught Portland wife told the Jamaica Observer, “but now I’m so embarrassed.”

She shared that her husband was escorted home aboard a large, yellow Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus, along with a police car with flashing blue lights and soldiers brandishing guns.

“The whole community come down to see what was going on and ah wonder who sick [with COVID-19] or dead,” the woman, who did not wish to be identified, said.

The woman estimates that near 100 people converged close to her premises with eyes peering to see what was happening.

“I was too scared to go outside when I looked through the window and see all the people,” she said.

While acknowledging that her fears of any harm have not materialised, she told the Observer that the stigma associated with the coronavirus infection is now at her doorsteps.

“My husband has been tested. He does not have the virus but people are going to be talking all kind of things; I don’t know,” she said, now in tears.

“They have to find a better way to carry home people. Oh, my God, this is too much. I don’t know. They steal the joy out of him coming home.”

Responding to queries about her husband’s welfare, she said he, too, had been “a bit shaken up”.

The wife said she saw a scene in a town centre nearby last week, similar to her experience, and it startled her.

“When I finally heard what it was, [people being repatriated], I called the ministry [Office of the Prime Minister] and the COVID-19 number to get someone to ask if that’s how my husband would come home, but could get no answer. I wanted to avoid this,” she explained.

“But see it there; right at my yard.”

Reports of a similar scene reached the Observer of a case of a suspected Alorica call centre worker being returned to the residence in St Catherine from which she had been picked up with “bells and whistles”.

“I saw the big JUTC bus come into the community with a police car with it and considered it strange. It seemed to pique the interest of other residents and everyone was looking. The only thing was that it was Labour Day after the curfew, so people weren’t out and about,” an Eltham Park resident told the Observer.

“They can’t tell people not to stigmatise people and then take them home like this,” he said

The Government has employed a number of strategies, including a media campaign and advisories at various press conferences, to encourage the public to desist from discriminating against individuals and family members who have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis in any way.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in addressing reports of stigma and discrimination of health workers, urged at a recent virtual press conference that, “We must treat each other in a way that almost assumes that tomorrow we are going to need their support… We really need to cut the hate and work together as a country and as communities to overcome.”

Some 1,044 ship workers returned to the island last week on-board the Adventure of the Seas. They have since been landed and tested and those without the novel coronavirus reunited with their families.

Reports are that less than two per cent of the crew workers have been quarantined after being tested.

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