WHEN a St Catherine man took up a job opportunity to teach English in Zhejiang province in the People’s Republic of China, he never envisaged being at the centre of one of the most devastating global pandemics ever — the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The man, whose name is being withheld to protect his identity, commenced the temporary teaching post in September 2019 and had only been in China for five months when the virus erupted.
“It had fully developed around January 14; I was still in China at that time. I went into panic mode immediately because being in a foreign country and experiencing this kind of epidemic when you are in that country, versus when you are on the outside, are two completely contrasting experiences,” he says, while recounting the traumatic experience to JIS News.
He recalls having many sleepless nights and loss of appetite, noting that “there [were] nights when I was constantly praying to God to help me to get through another day in terms of being positive, trying not to panic, and trying to remain calm and collected with my thoughts; but it was a bit hard for me because I was truly all alone”.
After two and a half months of being quarantined in his apartment consequent to the COVID-19 outbreak in the province, he says he was able to secure a flight out of China through the efforts of the Jamaican Consulate in Beijing.
He embarked on the journey to Jamaica on March 2, and was one of four Jamaicans arriving in the island on that flight on March 4.
He notes that sanitisation procedures were strictly enforced, with mandatory temperature checks and detailed health declarations conducted throughout the journey from the Beijing Capital International Airport until his arrival at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.
He says the strict protocols continued as Jamaican health officials did several temperature checks when he disembarked the aircraft, and conducted a detailed interview with the travellers coming from the affected country. They were then transferred to a designated quarantine facility in Kingston.
Upon arrival, he says he was initially placed in a large open room, which he shared with three other individuals for one night and where the Government’s three-foot social distancing recommendation was strictly observed.
Two of the occupants were discharged the following day, while he remained in quarantine with the other person before being temporarily transferred to St Joseph’s Hospital in Kingston, one of the designated quarantine facilities across the island.
He tells JIS News that he was placed in a single-occupancy room for 10 days and, thereafter, returned to the original quarantine facility where he spent the remainder of his time.
During the 14-day quarantine period, people are closely monitored for any signs of COVID-19. Early detection of symptoms will allow for prompt isolation to prevent transmission of the virus.
Individuals in quarantine are prohibited from leaving their homes or the facilities in which they have been asked to stay at any time during the stipulated period, and are not allowed to have visitors.
Care packages can be dropped off at the security offices of these facilities, which stipulation, along with other measures, is intended to minimise the spread of the virus.
Describing the conditions in quarantine, he says the facilities are comfortable, with air-conditioned rooms and Wi-Fi connection.
“It is not a death sentence; two weeks will fly off in due time. I think it is manageable in terms of doing the time because, at the end of the day, these measures are to protect you and your community that you will be going back into,” he points out, while encouraging individuals to adhere to the necessary safety precautions being enforced.
To pass the time, he was able to stay in contact with concerned family and friends using his phone. He also watched movies and news updates on his laptop and exercised.
Temperature checks were conducted in the mornings and evenings and the facilities were sanitised several times daily.
“We got three delicious meals per day [along with] fruit juices and water; the nurses were very friendly and pleasant,” he recounts.
He says during the period of his quarantine he and other individuals were provided with basic toiletries and thermometers to conduct their own temperature checks.
He recalls the medical staff was forthcoming with information regarding the necessity of and regulations governing quarantine.
“A nurse came and she informed us about the Quarantine Act. She also gave us a paper to read and sign. It highlighted the regulations to be followed during the quarantine period at the facility and the date of release,” he says.
Under section 3 of the amended Quarantine Act, 1951, the minister of health is authorised to set up a Quarantine Authority which spearheads special measures to be taken when it is determined that an emergency exists. The authority comprises five people, including the chairperson.
Under section 10 of the Act, which deals with offences and penalties, it stipulates that anyone refusing to answer lawful questions or requests for information, who refuses to do or omits to carry out any lawful order, assaults or obstructs any officer or person exercising authority under the Act or attempts to bribe this person or takes a bribe, shall be guilty of an offence and is liable, on summary conviction before a resident magistrate, to a fine of $500,000 or six months’ imprisonment with hard labour, or both.
The man, who tested negative for COVID-19, is now reunited with his family at their home in St Catherine, and is happy to be with his loved ones.
He urges other people who are uncertain about their status to cooperate with the government order to come forward for testing and, where necessary, submit to the quarantine stipulation.
“You just have to do what you have to for your own safety as well as the safety of others. At the end of the day, it is for your safety and the other citizens of Jamaica,” he says.
Having seen the virus’s devastating impact first-hand, he commends the Government of Jamaica for its swift response in dealing with the pandemic.
“Since the first case of the virus, I do believe the Government has done a good job of educating the public and ensuring everyone takes the necessary precautions. People are fearful and panicking because we didn’t really expect this pandemic to reach here; but it is here now and we all have to just get through this together,” he says.
The Government continues to facilitate enhanced screening and quarantine measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
On March 16, 2020 the Administration advised that all travellers from countries where there is local transmission of COVID-19 would be required to self-quarantine for up to 14 days, either in their hotel or place of residence in Jamaica. Quarantine measures are also applicable to people who have tested positive for the virus but have no travel history.
If symptoms develop during the quarantine period, individuals should contact the ministry at the COVID-19 line: 888-754-7792 or 888-ONE-LOVE (663-5683).
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