A Jamaican woman stranded in The Bahamas is begging the Government to focus on repatriating nationals stuck in smaller islands across the region as it moves to ramp up its admission of citizens back into the country by air travel next month.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Tuesday said that with the timely processing of ship workers, just under 1,500 of whom have so far returned to the country, the Administration is looking to exclusively focus its attention on Jamaicans returning to the island by air sometime after the first week in June. He was speaking at a virtual press conference from Jamaica House in St Andrew.
Yesterday, the woman, who asked not to be identified because of her job, told the Jamaica Observer in a telephone interview, that she left the country for a two-week vacation in Nassau, but that has turned into an almost three-month stay.
She said she left the island on March 17, a week after Jamaica confirmed its first COVID-19 case.
Days later, on March 20, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the closure of the country’s air and sea ports to incoming passenger traffic and as the country moved to contain spread of the novel coronavirus.
The order, which initially should have taken effect at 11:59 pm on March 21, was extended to March 24.
“The Government seems to be only accepting crew members and people from the US and England. There are only 40 active cases here and you taking in people from the US where things are crazy. I mean, we’re in the smaller islands. I came just on vacation and it seems like nothing not happening for us. I mean, when you go on vacation it’s a certain amount of money you travel with and it’s a certain amount of time that you go there for. That time [has] passed,” the woman said.
She told the Observer that when the announcement was made that the borders would be closed she contacted her airline carrier and was told that flights to the country had been cancelled. She said that she had been scheduled to leave The Bahamas on March 29.
She said that she has since had to apply to that country’s Department of Immigration for an extension of stay because she had previously indicated that her time in the country would be short.
“I mean, I came here with a certain amount of money. I just know two people on this island and they are not working because the island is basically on lockdown. So we have to try and make ends meet to get food here and it has gotten really hard. I’m down to like [US]$50 right now. I don’t even know how I’d even pay to go home because my return flight should have been from the 29th,” the woman added, noting that she went on vacation with US$600.
Added to that, she said that she has been furloughed by her business process outsourcing company, which means that she has lost the benefit of a salary.
Her savings, she said, has been used up to pay bills back home as well as to take care of her elderly mother.
Frustrated, the woman said that she has been unable to sleep and has been taking over-the-counter drugs to get some rest.
The 32-year-old said that she has applied to return to the island through the immigration portal linked to the www.jamcovid19.moh.gov.jm website — which is being used to facilitate the re-entry of Jamaicans under the Government’s controlled re-entry programme — but to date, her application status has not changed from pending.
She said she made the request a month ago when the portal was officially launched.
At that time, Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said that Jamaicans facing hardship overseas would be given priority.
Yesterday, the woman said that the app was updated to facilitate questions about home quarantine and that she has filled out the relevant sections. She said that she also contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, before the portal was launched, and explained her dilemma. She said her information had been collected and she was told that someone would be in touch.
That has not happened.
“It’s really hard here, especially when you don’t know many people. Each time we went to the supermarket the bill would come to US$100 because of the pandemic prices keep going up; things hard. People are literally lining up by the Salvation Army for food,” the Jamaican said, noting that that will be her fate if the Government is unable to assist.
And, she will again have to apply for an extension of stay on June 19, if things remain the same.
At the same time, she is contending that there are other nationals stranded in the island and that she learnt of their ordeal through Facebook posts.
“We’re not from here. We need to go home. So, who is responsible for us? We need to go home. I pay the Government a lot of taxes. Sometimes my PAYE (Pay As You Earn) tax is like $30,000; I’m a law-abiding citizen and I pay my dues to my country. I am stressed. I keep crying. I’m here for so long and there’s no date, no time, no end to this. We must matter to somebody,” the woman lamented.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Holness announced his Administration’s decision to broaden protocols governing the return of Jamaicans to the island as it signals its intention to fully reopen the country’s borders to incoming passenger traffic and, by extension, the economy.
“We’re now deploying the same protocols and logistics that we utilise for the Royal Caribbean ship more broadly to facilitate the return of the over 8,000 Jamaicans who have applied to return on the Jamcovid system,” Holness said at the virtual press briefing from Jamaica House in St Andrew.
As a result, he said that the 14-day mandatory State quarantine, which has been in place since last month, will be discontinued. Instead, people arriving in Jamaica will be tested and facilitated at a State quarantine facility until their results are ready.
If their results are negative, Holness said, they will be allowed to complete quarantine at home.
“This will allow us to increase the rate and pace at which we can safely repatriate Jamaicans overseas who will be relying on air travel to get home,” he said, noting that the suitability of homes and living conditions will be assessed before that decision is taken.
Holness said that the logistics of getting Jamaicans home safely “is even more complicated than that of the ships” because there is the certainty of a vessel which can facilitate repatriation.
“To deal with the persons who have to come by aircraft, as you know, we don’t have standard regular flights, we have to wait on flights of opportunity,” he said.
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