#Editorial: Allow Jamaicans Home

Photo via Andrew Holness on Instagram

Time passes quickly with the potential for people to replace hailed accomplishments with what seems like ingratitude. This situation is becoming increasingly applicable to the Jamaican government.

Praised globally for its astute handling of COVID-19 preventative measures in the early stages of the pandemic, the government is now drawing criticism for its more recent actions. These criticisms, some justifiable, risk obliterating the positives the administration had achieved.

The growing criticisms relate to the government’s actions in allowing Jamaicans to return home during the continued COVID-19 mitigation measures.

One of the early measures taken by the Jamaican government to stem the virus’ spread was to close its international airports and seaports to incoming travelers on March 21. This measure was originally slated to be for 14 days, but was extended as the pandemic prevailed with the rates of contamination increasing significantly. The ports are still closed to incoming passengers, without a definitive date for reopening.

The closure of the ports has had serious repercussions for thousands of Jamaicans who were out of the country for various reasons when the measures took effect. Some of these Jamaicans include workers in temporary jobs overseas, and hundreds of cruise ship staff.

With businesses mostly locked down in countries like the U.S., Canada, and the UK, and the cruise line industry forced to suspend operations, Jamaicans in these countries and working on cruise ships are eager to return home. So are several Jamaican students stranded overseas, including in other Caribbean countries.

Urgent calls have been made to the Jamaican government on behalf of these stranded Jamaicans, urging special arrangement be made to open the ports to accept those  wanting to return home.

Initially slow to respond to these requests, the government eventually established a website to enable Jamaicans overseas to register so arrangements can be made for their return. Over the past two weeks, based on this register, arrangements were made in association with Jamaican diplomatic missions overseas for approximately 500 individuals to return home.

Still cautious to protect the spread of COVID-19, the Jamaican government mandates returning Jamaicans be quarantined by the government for 14 days before they can go to their respective homes. The government has been meeting the costs of this quarantine at hotels and other venues at significant cost to Jamaican taxpayers.

However, because it has been reported that over 8,000 Jamaicans stranded overseas have registered to return home the government appears overwhelmed in arranging for more people to return, at least for the next week.

On Monday, a Royal Caribbean ship with 1044 Jamaican ship workers approached Jamaica intent on disembarking the workers in Falmouth, but the government was reluctant to permit the workers to disembark, arguing arrangements weren’t made, nor authorization given, for them to do so. Thankfully, following strong push back from the opposition People’s National Party, ordinary citizens, and woeful pleas from passengers on the ship, the government relented.

Each passing day, with more stranded Jamaicans pleading to return home, gains made by the Jamaican government in handling the COVID-19 pandemic risks being eroded.

Jamaicans deserve to be allowed to enter their country. While legal, law-abiding Jamaicans are being frustrated in returning home, the government recently allowed entry to a group deportees from the U.S. without much argument.

Although several countries have also closed their borders as part of COVID-19 preventative measures, they still opened their borders to their citizens.

One of the factors constraining Jamaica from opening its borders to returning Jamaicans is the government’s inability to arrange mandatory quarantine measures for the thousands wanting to come home.

Therefore, common sense must prevail. It appears it would be more practical for the government to arrange for mandatory COVID-19 testing for those wanting to return home, including those stranded on ships, and provide evidence of the test before coming home. Of course, those testing positive would be denied entry. But those showing no sign of the virus could be allowed to return home, subject to copiously monitored temporary home quarantine with severe penalties if the quarantine is broken. This could be a way of allowing many more Jamaicans to return, and visitors to go to Jamaica.

It’s absolutely necessary that the Jamaican government protect the health of Jamaicans at home, but the majority of Jamaicans stranded overseas are not infected with COVID-19. There’s really no reason for the government to treat its own people as if they are lepers.

The Jamaican government cannot in all good sense close its ports indefinitely. The Jamaican economy is dependent on international travelers who come for personal reasons, business and pleasure. Most of Jamaica’s revenue comes  from services provided on the island to people who travel there.

It’s now incumbent for the government to continue applying astute management to protect the nation from COVID-19, while carefully opening its borders to Jamaicans stranded overseas, Jamaicans in the diaspora anxious to return, and people wanting to do business in, or visit, Jamaica.

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