Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Gov’t grapples with count of Jamaicans in China

Published:Saturday | February 1, 2020 | 12:21 AM
A customs officer is seen wearing a protective face mask at the Norman Manley International Airport on Tuesday.
A customs officer is seen wearing a protective face mask at the Norman Manley International Airport on Tuesday.

WESTERN BUREAU:

Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith says the Jamaican Government is still not 100 per cent sure of how many of its citizens reside in China, but had organised a new online registration regime that has captured more than 400 people.

Introduced since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, Johnson Smith said that 29 Jamaicans, mainly students, teachers and their family members, live near the epicentre of the illness.

The others live in various provinces.

“All of them are in good health, and most are following the official guidelines and procedures. We do know that some are particularly nervous, and that is understandable,” she told journalists during a media briefing at the North East Regional Health Authority offices in Ocho Rios, St Ann, on Friday.

The foreign affairs minister blames the historical absence of a database on the informal manner in which Jamaicans travel.

“You would think that going as far as China, our people would have ensured this happened, but a lot of the people did not register at the embassy or advise that they were in the country,” the foreign minister said.

Minister’s message

Johnson Smith sent out a WhatsApp voice note on Friday morning seeking to assure Jamaicans in China that their Government was doing all in its power to mitigate their difficulties.

Johnson Smith’s message included information on the names and contact numbers for hotlines for foreign services within the provinces to alert Chinese government officials about supply shortages of food and medicine.

The Jamaican Embassy has a total of four persons in China, including the ambassador, who is currently in Jamaica.

Lauding Jamaicans who have been proactive, the foreign affairs minister said they have been lending support to each other via a WeChat group, through which they were able to assist a young woman who had lost her job a week before the outbreak of the virus.

“She had booked her flight but was unable to leave when the travel restrictions were enforced by the government of China, and needed money to pay rent for an apartment and the team fundraised and assisted her,” Johnson Smith said.

Johnson Smith also said that the foreign ministry had sought to offer support to Akara Goldson, a Jamaican student in China who pleaded on Radio Jamaica’s ‘Beyond the Headlines’ programme on Wednesday for help in returning home.

“While she is the only Jamaican at the university she attends, there are other Jamaicans registered at universities in that province and will assist. We have already reached out to them,” Johnson Smith told journalists.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com