Sat | Sep 26, 2020

Sangster staff grapple with COVID screening

Published:Friday | August 7, 2020 | 12:23 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, in July.
A traveller being processed by COVID-19 healthcare personnel in the immigration hall of the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James, in July.


As Jamaica’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, the impact is being felt by passengers arriving at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.

For three weeks in a row, passengers have complained that they have had to wait for up to five hours to be processed on particular days, namely August 1 and the last Saturday in July. The case was similar on Wednesday, August 5 when 12,000 passengers arrived at the international airport.

Some passengers bemoaned what they described as a nightmare coming into the facility, where they were met with long lines stemming from overwhelmed healthcare workers being unable to screen them efficiently.

On Wednesday, one tour operator told The Gleaner that his clients arrived at the airport at 12:45 p.m. and did not exit until 6 p.m. He said the protracted wait inconvenienced the travellers who arrived on flights from New York, Newark, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Toronto, Baltimore, and Charlotte in the United States.

“It was terrible. People arrived at 12:45, and hours later, were still in the building. I mean, some of these people never had the permission granted, and so that delayed the process from a particular flight.

“But in general, it was bad, and so was last Saturday and the Saturday before,” he lamented.

Reports also surfaced that the protracted waiting periods were caused by absenteeism by healthcare aides who are dissatisfied with the compensation for working at the outposts. Some workers have complained that the additional $3,000 per session is not sufficient for them to be putting themselves at risk.

One healthcare worker said that there were only 12 staffers assigned to man the arrival gates on Wednesday, resulting in the discomfort of passengers. Other workers were reportedly assigned to conduct sanitisation duties at workstations and could not assist with data collection.

But in responding to the concerns at a press conference on Thursday evening, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton said that the situation that manifested itself on Wednesday was an irregularity, which might be attributed to staff having been pulled to do surveillance work elsewhere.

“Firstly, based on my visits to the airport - and I try to do so once every few weeks to see what’s happening - I would describe yesterday (Wednesday) as an anomaly from what is normally the case,” the minister said.

“The truth is that the reports that I get on a relatively frequent basis is that it should take an hour or so to move a passenger through all the processing that is required at our airports. So the extent to which persons might have been there for five hours, I will check on that. That certainly is not the normal situation,” Tufton said.

He said that there are approximately 100 staff members assigned between Sangster and the Kingston-based Norman Manley International Airport and that accounts of only 12 manning posts at Sangster on Wednesday were “something worth looking into” as “that is not normally the case”.

The minister stressed the connection between the flare-ups of COVID in the rest of the country and the finite number of COVID-19 response teams. He said that these workers are often required to undertake community surveillance when there are instances of what he described as avoidable spikes stemming from the flouting of safety protocols.

“Where we have flare-ups, we have to relocate or reassign resources. I don’t know of the specifics of yesterday, but I know that could be one of the reasons because you have to move persons around, and it’s not just about the cases that are known in media,” he said.