JAMAICANS stranded overseas and experiencing severe hardship amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be given priority in the Government’s controlled re-entry arrangement, Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith has said.
Speaking at last evening’s digital press conference at Jamaica House in St Andrew, the minister acknowledged that while the Government continues to push against the spread of the virus locally, which triggered the closure of the country’s air and sea ports on March 24, the borders cannot remain closed to Jamaicans indefinitely.
She also said the re-entry of citizens is subject to the capacity of both the public health care system and quarantine facilities and that the process will first take into consideration “Jamaicans who are most vulnerable and are facing the most hardship”.
Her announcement follows some uncertainty in the public domain last week concerning the regulations of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) after news surfaced of an ease in travel restrictions on incoming passenger traffic to the island.
Several social media users, including Opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs Lisa Hanna and dancehall artiste Spice, had posted that the country’s borders had been opened to Jamaicans until May 31.
“I am encouraging calm and caution to Jamaicans overseas who are taking the literal language of 3(2)(a) DRMA Enforcement Order No 4 to mean that regular travel will now start for our nationals. I know this interpretation is being encouraged on social media,” Johnson Smith said in a Twitter thread then.
Yesterday, she said the foreign affairs ministry had since launched an immigration portal linked to the www. jamcovid19.moh.gov.jm website which will facilitate the applications of Jamaicans seeking to return to the island.
Information submitted will be verified by the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency, Johnson Smith said, and a decision will be made within three days on whether or not the application has been given conditional approval or if additional information is needed.
Approximately 5,000 Jamaicans have so far indicated a desire to return to the country.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in touch with many Jamaicans who are experiencing hardship. Those persons will be given specific consideration in this process. If you have been identified as a high priority travel recommendation, if you are someone who we have been in touch with and [we are] already providing assistance, so we know that your needs are verified, urgent and critical, then you will be flagged for priority in consideration once the other matters — that is your health [and] your travel documents verification — have been approved by the relevant authorities,” said Johnson Smith.
Additionally, she said people coming into the country will have to agree to mandatory quarantine.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in the meantime, said: “The advice given from the public health experts in Jamaica is that re-entry has to be done under clear rules of quarantine; that we couldn’t just reopen the border for general re-entry because it introduces a new risk. We have established what the local risk is… reintroducing a new population would increase that risk and would stretch the resources of public health, but it would also stretch the resources of the hospital facilities.”
He added that the ability to order re-entry depends largely on the authority’s ability to structure quarantine arrangement.
He said while there are other logistical obstacles involved, the main obstacle lies with quarantining 5,000 people.
Equally, he indicated that the Government has been experiencing difficulty acquiring rooms for quarantine.
“I encourage all the hoteliers to consider allowing some of your rooms to be available in the national fight against COVID-19. Again, I want to point out that there is great stigma attached, but now is not the time for that, and every single Jamaican must realise that we are all in this fight together,” he said.
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