Jamaicans Lament “Prison” Conditions At State Quarantine Facility

Sheri-kae McLeod

Bahia Principe Jamaica. Photo via Jamaica Observer

Over the last week, as Jamaica began to repatriate its citizens that have been stuck overseas since March, many returning residents have brought attention to the sub-standard conditions of some of the island’s state quarantine facilities.

Under the controlled re-entry program, returning Jamaicans have to be quarantined in a state facility for 14 days at a discounted cost of USD $20 for meals and other needs. But last week, the Jamaican government came under fire for the conditions of some of the facilities, which have been likened to that of prisons.

The Bahia Principe Hotel in Runaway Bay is one such hotel that has been called out by residents staying at the facility, which currently accommodates 345 of the residents that have returned so far. Residents revealed a slew of problems at the facility, including rooming delays, no COVI-19 testing, substandard meals, discrimination and verbal abuse from the workers at the hotel.

Residents at the facility took to social media to post videos and images of the deplorable meals and rooming conditions that they were being subject to.

Following backlash from locals and members of the diaspora, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton both issued an apology to the residents and said that the issues were being rectified. Although the public apologies were warranted and largely accepted, the issues highlighted by residents have discouraged many Jamaicans in the diaspora who are eager to go home.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has admitted that the 600 persons that are currently in quarantine and isolation have stretched the government’s resources thin. “Out of compassion and an overwhelming desire to bring our citizens home, we are now beyond our quarantine capacity,” he said.

As a result, he said, it will be at least 14 days before Jamaica is able to accommodate any sizeable additional cohort. Accommodation and food for the initial batch of 330 returning Jamaicans have cost the government $64 million, which does not include security, healthcare, and other expenses.

Minister Tufton also suggested that many public-health officers, nurses, and inspectors, who are currently not allowed vacation leave, are suffering from burnout.

Also adding to the government’s concerns is the fact that over 9,000 Jamaicans have applied to return home and are waiting for approval. There is still also over 1,000 Jamaican cruise ships workers, still stuck at sea and waiting for permission to disembark.

Many citizens had asked the government to consider the isolation of returning residents in their homes, in order to use the hefty quarantine bill elsewhere. At a press conference earlier this week, Prime Minister Holness said that the government has taken the suggestion and would be implementing a geo-fencing monitoring system to facilitate self-quarantine.

But while Holness said that home quarantine may be the best compromise, he remains cautious that it could cause a slew of other problems if the protocols are not followed. Holness said that indiscipline of returning residents could still lead to a drastic spike in imported/import-related cases in the country.

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