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PRETESTING U-TURN - New hurdle for visitors from high-risk COVID US states

Published:Wednesday | July 1, 2020 | 12:06 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
A traveller being processed by COVID-19 healthcare personnel in the immigration hall of the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James.
A traveller being processed by COVID-19 healthcare personnel in the immigration hall of the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James.


Visitors from the high-risk American states of Florida, New York, Arizona, and Texas are now required to pretest for the new coronavirus before travelling to Jamaica, says Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Combined, the four states have recorded more than 755,000, or almost 30 per cent of, COVID-19 cases in the United States and are among Jamaica’s most important source markets. Other states may be added to list, the prime minister hinted.

The precautionary move coincides with the European Union’s mulling over whether to ban travel by Americans to its states and is a policy U-turn on the Holness administration’s initial resistance to calls by local medical professionals to impose pretesting protocols.

The new pretesting online portal becomes operational on July 1. Test results should be no older than seven days and must be uploaded to the portal, with travel commencing as of July 10.

“Visitors are required to upload a valid PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. This will be used to determine if approval will be granted to enter Jamaica,” Holness said during a press briefing at Jamaica House on Monday evening.

He cautioned that a negative test would not mean automatic approval.

The announcement came hours after the country’s Minister of Health & Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, told The Gleaner that the COVID-19 testing architecture at the island’s two major international airports, Sangster and Norman Manley, was overwhelmed by the large number of travellers arriving in the country.

Approximately 14,600 travellers arrived in the island between June 15 and 29 – 9,300 residents and 5,300 tourists.

In the next two weeks, 22 flights are expected to carry an average of 1,680 passengers per day, putting more pressure on fatigued medical and security personnel who were redeployed from health clinics and hospitals to man the airports’ protocols.

The latest move will also see returning Jamaicans and non-Jamaican residents staying outside of the prescribed corridors being tested at government laboratories after arriving here.

“They will be checked, and based upon the risk assessment, they will be required to make an appointment at one of the testing labs,” Holness said.

That group will stay home under quarantine orders until their test results are returned.

Business travellers, whose stays usually last four days or fewer, will be tested at the airport, said the prime minister.

The prime minister noted that the risk associated with the arrival of returning Jamaicans was 0.7 per cent, down from 2.5 per cent. He said that the decision allowing them to report to laboratories ought not to be interpreted as the country dropping its guard.

“All tourists coming in will be screened. We are not abandoning testing,” he said.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett announced the appointment of a COVID-19 Resilient Corridor management team headed by Chukka Caribbean Adventures’ John Byles and a group of tourism stakeholders.

“Their role is to ensure the resilient corridor is managed properly,” said Bartlett.