The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has called on the Government to immediately outline to the country its plans and protocols for the repatriation of Jamaican cruise ship workers, 1,044 of whom are expected to arrive on a Royal Caribbean vessel in Falmouth today.
At a virtual press conference from PNP headquarters in St Andrew yesterday, Opposition spokespersons said the current process is chaotic and amounts to people who are trying to return home being treated like refugees.
The party said also that a national logistics coordinator should be appointed to manage the process of repatriating Jamaicans at sea.
“Don’t let them come to Falmouth and not disembark. That is inhumane,” PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson stated.
On May 12, during a special select committee of Parliament, Opposition spokesman on health Dr Morais Guy had asked Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton whether the Jamaicans aboard the Adventure of the Seas cruise vessel would be landed and quarantined in a Government-run facility, subject to the same processes that exist for those who return by air.
Dr Tufton, who chairs the committee which is reviewing the operations of the public health sector during the COVID-19 crisis, had outlined general protocols for repatriation, but said he did not have details on the particular vessel. “Member, you seem to have more information than I; I will do some checks on that, but I am checking my CMO (chief medical officer) here and she is not aware of those details. I know there are discussions taking place around the possibility of seamen [Jamaican workers on ships] being repatriated. We are in the process of trying to work out logistics around these arrangements, but I can’t say that I have been given any specific date and so your level of detail makes you a lot more aware on the specifics of that particular approach,” Tufton said at the time.
Yesterday, the PNP accused the Government of repeatedly bungling the repatriation of Jamaicans amidst the COVID-19 crisis, particularly Jamaicans working on cruise ships.
Opposition spokesman on national security Fitz Jackson stressed that Government must immediately put measures in place to allow the Jamaicans aboard the Adventure of the Seas to disembark.
“We demand that our fellow Jamaicans now in distress and uncertainty be allowed to join their families and loved ones here,” he said.
Spokesman on labour and social security Horace Dalley joined in: “This treatment by the Government of Jamaica is callous, inhumane, and reckless. Our people are not refugees, get them home… we need to ensure that when the ship arrives in Falmouth that the Jamaicans are disembarked.”
Dalley suggested that the Government should obtain the vessel’s manifest and have health authorities begin preliminary investigations for quarantine.
He said further that the Government should appeal to the goodwill of the ship’s management to remain docked for an additional 14 days past the May 23 date when it is reportedly scheduled to leave, to allow people to remain in quarantine on-board under the jurisdiction of the local health authority.
Spokesman on tourism Dr Wkyeham McNeill cautioned against a souring of the relations between Jamaica and the cruise lines, even as the Government tries to reopen the tourism industry.
“We are talking about Royal Caribbean, but there is also MSC and Disney — all of them have workers on-board and all of them are trying to get in touch with the Jamaican Government to have a clear policy. They will not send the ships here until they have a clear agreement with the Jamaican Government… the cruise lines are having difficulty trying to determine who to talk to,” Dr McNeill claimed.
“When you open up you want them to come to destination Jamaica, and after a period of time our workers can go back and get work on these ships. If we have bad relations with them now, we can have repercussions going forward and can make our recovery harder. There will be a lot of competition among destinations; we want to ensure that the Government maintains a good relationship with our partners so that moving forward we can benefit,” Dr McNeill stated.
He urged the Government to reach out to the cruise lines now, put someone in charge of handling that process, and not to “operate as if you’re doing anybody a favour”, stressing that it is the duty of the State to look after its nationals.
Charging the Government to come clean with the Jamaican people at this time on the issue, Opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs Lisa Hanna argued that “it cannot be that for two months persons have been on a ship to be repatriated home and the Government says it knows nothing about it”.
She said the matter of a protocol for repatriation of those at sea has been raised multiple times over the month.
She said the Government also needs to say whether the Adventure of the Seas and other vessels scheduled to arrive have yet been given permission to enter Jamaican waters.
Speaking via audio feed at the press conference, a woman who said she was a guest services officer on the Adventure of the Seas, said her national pride has taken a blow at this time. According to the woman, she and other Jamaican workers have already spent 15 days in isolation aboard the vessel.
She said the captain of the ship, which is carrying nationals of 70 other countries, had been in touch with the Jamaican Government yesterday, and is awaiting further word. The woman said the vessel’s planned departure of March 23 will give the Jamaican authorities at least one week to make arrangements for testing.
The Opposition’s complaints come days after Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the country that capacity was posing a problem in the Government’s controlled re-entry programme.
“The reality is that we now have over 600 persons in quarantine and isolation facilities to manage. We also have four quarantine areas in St Mary and many other active contact tracing exercises ongoing, this while conducting all the other public health duties,” Holness had said.
“While we are working assiduously to bring home all our citizens, it is clear we cannot continue to overextend ourselves, as this increases the risk — both to the general public health and our returning Jamaican citizens. We have to work within our capacity while we seek to build additional capacity. We are now beyond our quarantine capacity. It will therefore be at least 14 days before we are able to accommodate any sizeable additional cohort,” he said on Friday.
Holness said that he has directed the ministries and agencies involved to use this period to explore ways of rapidly increasing the country’s quarantine capacity, both in accommodations and logistics, to ensure a positive experience for all.
He said more than 8,000 Jamaicans have already applied to return home through the JamCovid19 system and to accommodate this number utilising State quarantine would mean an inordinate delay in their return.
“The Government is already working toward the development of a home quarantine solution, incorporating technology that will facilitate the geofencing and monitoring of persons re-entering Jamaica, to ensure that they stay in their designated quarantine area,” he said.
Two weeks ago 41 distressed Jamaican workers, who were aboard the Marella Discovery 2, were allowed re-entry after initially not being given permission to disembark, several weeks prior.
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