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TOURIST TEST - Travellers to be swabbed for COVID-19

Published:Friday | June 12, 2020 | 12:00 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Tourists arriving in Jamaica as of June 15 will be tested for COVID-19.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.
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WESTERN BUREAU:

Days after coming under pressure from medical professionals about COVID-19 protocols for visitors, the Government said yesterday that all arriving tourists will be tested for the new coronavirus as of June 15.

Officials confirmed the policy declaration, due to emerging concerns over risk profiles of coronavirus-troubled nations like the United States, during a digital press conference yesterday evening.

“We view this as a positive step as no single process works with 100 per cent accuracy in relation to the screening of persons for COVID,” president of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), Dr Andrew Manning, told The Gleaner shortly after Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett confirmed the changes Thursday night.

Manning and his team last week objected to persons being given carte blanche access to the island in the middle of a worldwide crisis that has seen more than seven million people infected and 400,000 deaths.

According to Manning, the best way to test for COVID-19 was to utilise the patient health questionnaire, temperature checks, and laboratory tests in concert.

“We recognise that there are many factors that go into the screening of persons for COVID-19,” he concluded.

An influential church group has also expressed concern about the reopening of the country’s borders.

In a press statement on Thursday evening, the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) said that insufficient measures had been put in place for the protection of tourism workers and communities.

They, too, called for the Government to establish pretesting protocols for tourists coming into the country.

Up to three weeks ago, tourism stakeholders were calling for pretesting COVID-19 negative certificates before visitors board their flights to Jamaica.

However, the Ministry of Health and Wellness reportedly had issues with that measure.

“In order not to get stuck in a long debate, we decided to press along and focus instead on strong screening and other protocols,” a senior tourism stakeholder stated after learning of the new decision.

On Monday, seven flights are expected with approximately 1,000 passengers, and of major concern is the Ministry of Health’s capacity to manage traveller volumes. It took more than three hours for the ministry to fully test and clear close to 150 arriving passengers on the most recent UK flight into Kingston.

It is believed that the Montego Bay Convention Centre may be used to facilitate the testing of passengers.

“Moving persons from the Montego Bay airport to the Convention Centre for testing will be disastrous,” said one stakeholder, who asked to remain anonymous.

Several calls to the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President Omar Robinson rang without answer.

But at least one tour operator shocked by the news said the move would cause people to view Jamaica’s policy arrangements as confusing, potentially threatening airline confidence.

The carriers scheduled to return on Monday include American Airlines and Delta while Air Canada will fly out of Calgary into Sangster on Tuesday.

“We are guided by assessing the risk that is involved based on a particular point in time and a particular context. We are still manoeuvring the approach to managing the virus. It is still novel (meaning the population is not yet exposed),” Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton argued.

He noted that the lifting of restrictions both for Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans brought a different risk profile to managing the virus.

“We are protecting our population and our economic interest, which includes the tourism sector,” he stated.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com