(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Jamaican health authorities are bracing for a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases locally, following yesterday’s arrival of more than 200 stranded Jamaicans from the United States and Canada at Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston.
The US has the largest coronavirus outbreak globally with 1.37 million infections and more than 82,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Jamaicans arrived from Canada, Florida and New York — the epicentre of the outbreak in the US with more than 300,000 infections and close to 22,000 deaths.
A Government source who spoke to the Jamaica Observer yesterday, but asked not to be identified, said that authorities are expecting a sharp increase in the number though the arriving passengers will be quarantined at a St Ann hotel for a minimum of 14 days.
They will be tested for COVID-19 and will be subjected to daily temperature checks, the source said.
Jamaica has now recorded 509 COVID-19 cases.
Several Jamaica Defence Force members were among the group of 20 who arrived from Canada.
The army men, who were in the country for training under the Military Training and Cooperation Program (MTCP), became stranded after the country’s borders were ordered closed on March 24.
Two passengers, who spoke to the Observer briefly before the media were prevented from continuing coverage of the Jamaicans’ arrival, repeatedly expressed that they were happy to be home.
One of the passengers had been away for three months.
Journalists covering their arrival under the Government’s controlled re-entry programme were yesterday escorted from the arrival hall of the NMIA by the police.
The journalists, who were initially granted access to the area to capture the arrival of the first batch of Jamaicans from Florida, were not given an official reason for their removal.
NMIA Chief Operations Officer Dale Davis announced forcefully that except for the Government-run Jamaica Information Service (JIS), no other media were allowed in the area.
He subsequently called on law men to see to the removal of media workers.
Army men were then instructed to man the entrance of the hall.
Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, who provided updates including a photo of passengers on one of her social media pages, said that the Jamaicans deserved privacy.
Johnson Smith blasted journalists in subsequent Twitter posts, suggesting that coverage of the passengers was insensitive and inhumane.
“Today was hugely emotional. Wonderful to welcome Jamaicans returning home but so many with different challenges. Is it too much to ask that they could have a little privacy? Furthermore, no one, including media, is ever allowed into the immigration and Customs hall!
“Jamaica encourages freedom of the press, the world knows it! That’s why we are 6th in the world. But freedom of the press should not mean insensitivity nor inhumanity. Why would you want to witness passengers’ health checks before transportation? People have a right to privacy,” said Johnson Smith.
She further added that JIS was “allowed to take some footage just to show there was nothing to hide”.
The Opposition People’s National Party spokesman on information Julian Robinson, in a release last night, said “the blocking of journalists who turned up at the Norman Manley International Airport to provide coverage of the arrival of Jamaicans who were stranded overseas is unacceptable and an unnecessary blot on Jamaica’s excellent ranking on the global press freedom index”.
“…The nation relies on the press to keep our people informed, and a matter of the arrival of Jamaicans who were stranded overseas on account of COVID-19 restrictions is of extremely high public interest,” said Robinson.
The JetBlue flight, which came in from Florida, landed about 10:00 am with 94 Jamaicans on-board.
A second JetBlue flight carrying more than 90 passengers from New York landed at 11:45 am.
The WestJet flight from Canada arrived sometime after 1:00 pm.