900 expected to arrive from the UK amid travel banTuesday, December 22, 2020
BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
THE local public health system has again been thrown into high alert as hundreds of individuals, mostly Jamaicans, arrive in the island from Britain where a new strain of the novel coronavirus — described as “out of control” by officials there — has forced London and other areas into strict lockdown.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness yesterday issued a two-week travel ban on flights coming to Jamaica from England, but said three flights, one of which was already en route, would be allowed to land, and passengers placed in State quarantine for two days and tested for COVID-19. The ban, which took immediate effect, ends on January 4.
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told the Jamaica Observer shortly after the ban was announced that the island has the capacity to house the roughly 300 passengers who were expected to arrive here on the first flight yesterday.
The remaining two flights, expected to arrive today, could bring up to 600 additional passengers, he said.
“For the numbers for today [yesterday], we think we do [have capacity]. We are going to have to look at the numbers for tomorrow [today]. We are still working on that,” Tufton said.
Dr Tufton explained that the coronavirus strain that has sent British authorities scrambling requires polymerase chain reaction testing.
“The nature of this virus does not allow antigen testing. The idea is to test all persons and then hold [them] for 48 hours, and then when they get their results, to send them home, but still track them. We expect most of them to be Jamaicans,” the health minister said.
Jamaica joins a number of other countries, from Europe to Asia, that have blocked flights originating from the UK. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a Cabinet Office Briefing Room emergencies committee yesterday to discuss the crisis.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness says passengers arriving in Jamaica from the UK who test negative will be fitted with armbands for monitoring and then released to complete their 14-day quarantine at home, while those who are positive will be isolated in State facilities until they've recovered.
“Family members of persons who arrive on these flights will be able to pick up their relatives after the minimum 48-hour quarantine,” the ministry advised, while cautioning that individuals must adhere to the quarantine protocols while at home.
The protocols also apply to individuals who arrive from other ports of entry via the UK.
“At this time, Jamaicans are strongly advised not to travel to the UK. Those who travel overseas, including to [the] UK, will be subject to the established quarantine or isolation procedures on their return to Jamaica,” the ministry said.
On the weekend, Britain's health minister warned that the strict lockdown imposed on London and south-east England could last for months as the new strain of the virus was “out of control”, and “deadly serious”, according to an Agence France Presse report.
Prime Minister Johnson has advised that Christmas plans must be cancelled and that Britons should hunker down, as the new strain of COVID-19 is spreading fast.
The reported new outbreak comes as England and other countries roll out their vaccine programmes, which have been met with intense scepticism by some, while others welcome with relief what is believed to be the answer to COVID-19.
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