Thu | Nov 26, 2020

‘Worrying signs’ - Expanded PCR testing regime to add pressure on healthcare staff, says Tufton

Published:Monday | August 17, 2020 | 12:25 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness.
Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness.

Broadened pretesting requirements for non-residents visiting Jamaica are expected to put additional pressure on local health officials, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has said.

Commencing August 20, non-residents from the United States, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico will be required to acquire a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test prior to arrival.

This applies to all non-residents 12 years and older and business travellers from the locations designated by Jamaican health authorities as high-risk.

The requirement, which has been in effect for non-residents from the hotspot states of Arizona, Florida, New York, and Texas in the United States since July 10, is being imposed amid a troubling rise in coronavirus cases in Jamaica since a lull in June.

“We have seen a number of additional cases popping up, not just from tourists, but largely, too, from locals ... . We are seeing signs that are worrying, and if we don’t obey or observe these protocols, the worst is yet to come,” Tufton told The Gleaner on Sunday evening.

All visitors to the island remain subject to health screening by local health authorities.

The health minister added that airport wait times are not expected to lengthen as passengers’ information is logged prior to travel and only requires verification. He said that additional personnel will be deployed if needed.

As at August 17, Jamaica recorded 1,113 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 14 deaths. Seven new cases were confirmed on Sunday.

COVID-19 cases in the United States – Jamaica’s main tourism market and a country with one of the highest rates of infection – have surpassed 5.3 million, while Brazil has accounted for 3.3 million. Mexico and the Dominican Republic have more than 517,000 and 85,000 positive cases, respectively.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett has asserted that the new PCR regime is “part of the belt and braces” that will assist the country in managing a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“They are required to do the test within 10 days prior to their intended date of travel to Jamaica. All persons applying to enter on visitjamaica.com from the designated high-risk locations will be required to upload their COVID-19 PCR test certificate as part of the application process,” read a section of the health ministry’s statement issued on Sunday.

“There is a growing recognition that all destinations ought to protect their population from potential spread of the virus, and in the context of the US, showing increasing incidence of infection in a number of states, this move will, in fact, in the short run, influence arrivals but in the long run will be beneficial to all,” Bartlett told The Gleaner.

90,000 VISITORS

Bartlett said that since the phased reopening of the country’s borders on June 15, Jamaica has welcomed more than 90,000 visitors, earning the country approximately US$120 million.

He added that the tourism ministry has had “reasonably fair commentary from our visitors” in relation to airport procedures.

Meanwhile, chairman of Couples Resorts, Lee Issa, told The Gleaner that while the requirement may negatively impact visitor arrivals, he does not expect that it will be dramatic.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a major cause for people not to travel. It does put a damper on people trying to get the results within 10 days of travel because I’m told there is a backlog, and some of them might have a problem in getting it,” said Issa.

“It’s cumbersome for the visitors out of the US, our major market, but I think the Government has done the right thing.”

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com