McNeill warns of 'disaster of national proportions'Thursday, July 16, 2020
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
With the country moving into a second phase of the reopening of borders to visitors, Opposition spokesman on tourism Dr Wykeham McNeill is claiming that visitors have been entering the island without being tested for COVID-19 and warned of “a disaster of national proportions” if this is not addressed.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday on the heels of the announcement by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett about the launch of phase 2A, featuring the reopening of the South Coast resilience corridor, Dr McNeill said while the development was welcomed he was “very concerned” about the issue which he found “very disturbing”.
“We had been given the assurance that the protocols are that all visitors into the island will be either tested or pretested. I am being reliably informed that over the last three days a number of visitors have been coming into the country without pretesting or border control testing because the system is breaking down somewhere,” McNeill told the House.
“If I am hearing that, I know you are hearing it too. This is totally unacceptable and is tantamount to a dereliction of duty and could lead to a disaster of national proportions if it is so and not dealt with immediately. The South Coast is unique, it is the home of community tourism and we want it to remain safe. We are all happy about the decision to reopen it, but it is the responsibility of the Government to keep the Jamaican citizens safe,” he said further.
In calling for verification of the information he said “we need to find out exactly how long it has been going on, what is happening with those persons who have entered the island without being tested, are they being monitored, are any restrictions put on them, and what is it we are doing about it because this cannot continue like this”.
“If this continues we may be putting ourselves in a position to lose all the gains we have recently made. You need to address these serious issues that could really derail everything you are working towards,” he added.
Bartlett responded, saying there were gaps in the information McNeill presented, but promised that checks would be made.
“We decided to do pretesting starting on the 20th of July because the 10th of July was when the visitors would upload their testing results. They started uploading then, so it wouldn't be fair for anybody to be saying to you that people are coming through who are not pretested because we didn't require pretesting; in fact we won't until the 20th,” the tourism minister countered.
“I can't speak to the question of people not being tested; we know the operations require it and the infrastructure is at the airport for it, so to the extent you have raised it I will take up the matter with the minister [of health and wellness] in that regard. I would then also caution as to how deep and hard we go at the minister and his team when in fact we are not very sure as to whether that information is accurate or not. It's not everything we hear sometimes that's worth repeating, even in Parliament, where we have some protection,” Bartlett said.
In his earlier statements, Bartlett said the comprehensive multi-phased approach to reopening the country's borders to visitors through the establishing of the resilience corridors has been an effective tool in managing visitor movement within the respective areas.
He said since the phased reopening of the sector began on June 15 the country has welcomed more than 35,000 visitors and residents. Bartlett said it was estimated that during July Jamaica will welcome a total 41,000 passengers — visitors and residents alike — resulting in US$80 million for the first month and a half of the reopening.
Phase 1 of the corridor runs along the main road from Negril, Westmoreland to Port Antonio, Portland on the island's North Coast, while phase 2A, featuring reopening of the South Coast corridor, spans Milk River in Clarendon to Negril, Westmoreland. On Tuesday, Bartlett said the other segment of the reopening of the southern corridor will take into consideration Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth and other areas on that coast.
He said to date 113 tourism accommodations along the north coast corridor have been certified as COVID-compliant while 13 have been certified along the phase 2a South Coast corridor for which certification continues. Attractions are the next element of the phase 2A reopening scheduled for July 21.