•Hotels offer free pre-departure tests to visitors •Health ministry donates 30,000 kits to six private labs

Friday, January 15, 2021

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Most of Jamaica's major hotels are now putting measures in place to have on-property COVID-19 tests for visitors who will require negative results for re-entry to their home countries.

The move, seen as a further extension of the island's effort to keep the vital tourism industry afloat, comes as the health and wellness ministry yesterday donated 30,000 antigen test kits to six private laboratories to support national COVID-19 testing efforts.

Tourism ministry official Delano Seiveright confirmed the development in the travel sector yesterday after Sandals Resorts circulated an advisory to the travel trade of its decision to have visitors do the test to ensure minimal disruption to their vacation.

“The plan is for most major hotels to work with the local laboratories to have the test done on property,” Seiveright, senior advisor/strategist in the Ministry of Tourism, told the Jamaica Observer.

“They're all just putting in the work now to get ready for January 26,” he said, referencing the date set by the United States Government to start accepting only travellers who can show a negative COVID-19 test done no more than three days before departure from destinations overseas, or provide their airline with documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 before boarding.

The US has said it will accept polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or antigen test results.

Regarded as the gold standard in SARS-CoV-2 detection PCR testing detects RNA (or genetic material) that is specific to the virus and can detect the virus within days of infection, even in people who have no symptoms.

Health experts advise that the PCR test can be done in a clinic, hospital, or even in your car. Results can be returned within two to three days but can be available in as little as 24 hours. However, when demand is high they can take a week or longer.

The antigen test more frequently referred to as a rapid test detects protein fragments specific to the coronavirus. It can be done in a clinic, doctor's office, or hospital. Turnaround time for results is usually much quicker in some cases within 15 minutes.

Yesterday, Seiveright said the local hotels will be making the antigen test available to visitors.

Sandals Resorts, in its advice to the trade, said the complimentary testing will be conducted through March 31.

“Tests will be conducted by approved and practised medical professionals with maximum convenience and minimal distraction to your clients' overall vacation experience,” the luxury-included all-inclusive resort chain said.

“As this has been an established requirement for other visitors from around the world, we want to assure you that our team is experienced in ensuring this process is as smooth and effortless as possible,” Sandals said.

“Once at the resort, our team will assist them, without difficulty, to make the arrangements required to schedule their on-site COVID-19 test at the resort. This will be done at least 72 hours prior to departure and test results will be available within 24-48 hours,” added the resort chain which, after the COVID-19 outbreak last year, had introduced a comprehensive safety programme several months prior to the reopening of its resorts across the Caribbean.

Yesterday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, while donating the test kits, said the gesture was another example of public-private partnership around testing as part of Jamaica's COVID-19 response.

“It is another case of our working together as a team, as a country, to protect our population – our locals and those who visit,” Dr Tufton said.

The donation of 30,000 SD Biosensor test kits will support the laboratories' offer of testing beginning next Monday, pending the arrival of their own supplies within two weeks.

The labs are Microlabs Limited, Biomedical, MDLink, Winchester Medical, Technological Solutions Limited, and Baywest Wellness.

Helen Christian, chief executive officer for Biomedical, welcomed the donation.

“This is much appreciated. It will help us to roll out and ramp up the testing across Jamaica for our fellow Jamaicans, as well as for our tourists, and to ensure we work together to combat this pandemic,” she said.

The ministry said it was also working with four other private entities to offer PCR testing within another two to four weeks. The details of those efforts will be made public later.

Earlier this week the Government announced the establishment of a special task force to spearhead efforts to boost the island's COVID-19 testing capacity in light of the increasing demand for such tests by Jamaica's tourism source markets.

In addition to the US, travellers arriving in Canada, since January 19, are required to present a negative PCR or Real-Time Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (RT-LAMP) test at check-in, done up to three days before flight departure.

Additionally, people who travelled before January 19 will be tested on arrival in Canada.

Jamaica's other major visitor source market, the United Kingdom, will start requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test from incoming passenger on January 18. The test, the UK Government said, must be done up to three days before departure and must be either PCR or RT-LAMP.

Jamaica currently has a travel ban on flights coming from the UK until January 31. As such, there are no non-stop flights to the UK from Jamaica at this time.

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