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Jamaicans stranded in Antigua because of COVID-19 lockdown return to island today

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, April 24, 2020

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MORE than 20 Jamaicans stranded in Antigua since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are to finally return home today.

Jamaica Observer sources in St John's, Antigua, confirmed that the Jamaicans were taken through health checks yesterday in preparation for their return to Kingston on a LIAT flight today.

According to the sources, since the announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Monday that a protocol has been developed for the controlled re-entry of Jamaicans from overseas, talks that were already well advanced have reached a successful conclusion.

“We have more than 60 Antiguan students stuck in Jamaica because of this COVID thing, and 20 plus Jamaicans are stuck here. Since both borders have been closed we have been collaborating with the Jamaican Government to deal with the issue,” said one source in Antigua who was close to the discussions.

Late yesterday Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, confirmed that the Jamaicans stuck in Antigua are homeward bound.

“Yes, I can tell you that everything is in place for their return in keeping with the announcements on Monday from the honourable prime minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith,” Samuda told the Observer.

“As was announced, there will be a controlled opening of the borders to get Jamaicans home as we seek to balance our control of the spread of the coronavirus while meeting the wishes of Jamaicans who are overseas and are anxious to get home,” added Samuda.

He underscored that this does not represent a reopening of Jamaica's borders, which remained closed.

Samuda said that despite word from Antigua that most of the Jamaicans scheduled to be repatriated today have received medical clearance, local health authorities will be taking no chances.

“They will be quarantined for 14 days as part of the protocol and that will be the only cost to the Jamaican Government, which will not be paying for the flight,” noted Samuda.

He added that the Jamaicans will be housed in one of the many properties which the Government has already identified as quarantine facilities.

Samuda further noted that Andrew Wynter, chief executive officer of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, will have the responsibility of co-ordinating the controlled return of Jamaicans from abroad.

Addressing a digital media briefing on Monday, the prime minister said, while he is sympathetic towards the thousands of Jamaicans “stranded” overseas, Jamaica, like other countries, had to employ strict border control measures in light of the rapid spread of COVID-19 locally.

“It is for good reason, but my sympathy is with them. But, more than sympathy, we have put in place a protocol. It would have to be discussed publicly, obviously. We'll bring it to Parliament and, as soon as we can, we will start to have controlled re-entry,” said Holness.

He noted, however, that the Government has not settled on a date for the re-entry of citizens, stating that it is determined by capacity.

“So, I need to get from the Ministry of Health how soon they can build up their capacity in order to service any mass, controlled re-entry of Jamaicans back to their home country. That will take some time. I can't say when and I don't want to give any date to which I will be held, but we are working as much as we can to get it done. Who knows? You could see some re-entry start in the near future, but it all depends on our capacity,” declared Holness.

He added: “Previously, when we closed the border we allowed limited re-entry via a discretionary application to the minister of national security and then the approval of Cabinet. Now, we will have a protocol in place. The protocol has been established, and that protocol will control the re-entry of Jamaicans.”

Two Jamaicans stranded in the Dominican Republic and who are reportedly in distress are also expected to be returned to the island before the end of this week on a flight from that country to pick up its nationals who have been stuck in Jamaica.

The issue of Jamaicans stuck overseas and wanting to get home has been on the front burner since the Government ordered the closure of the country's borders to incoming passenger traffic on March 24.

The subject of re-entry became a hot topic earlier that month when 43 Jamaican crew members aboard the Marella Discovery 2 were not allowed into the island while the cruise ship was in Jamaican waters.

But on Monday, Johnson Smith said the Government is in touch with the owner of the cruise line about arrangements to bring the crew members home, along with an additional 30 Jamaicans who have been identified as non-essential crew aboard other cruise ships.


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