Sun | Sep 27, 2020

Coronavirus, no problem, mon! - Travellers unworried about new super bug

Published:Wednesday | January 29, 2020 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Kevin Carpenter of Toronto shared his experience through immigration at NMIA on Tuesday.
A customs officer is seen wearing a protective face mask at the Norman Manley International Airport on Tuesday. Customs personnel were advised to take precautionary measures as they interact with travellers.

Travellers arriving at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport yesterday offered mixed reactions to the Jamaican Government’s plans to ramp up screening for the dangerous coronavirus with 16 countries already confirming infections have reached their shores.

Even as Health & Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton announced in Parliament that officials were on alert for ill visitors at seaports and airports, mainly North American travellers with whom a Gleaner news team spoke said it was business as usual, with little to no queries from immigration personnel on the visiting Asia recently.

The new coronavirus, which emerged in Wuhan, China, weeks ago, has killed more than 100 people in China, with almost 6,000 infections recorded.

Allison Hunte, who flew in from Miami, Florida, yesterday, said that she had observed immigration personnel here wearing masks and that airport protocol in Florida was noticeably more relaxed.

Hunte said, too, that no messages of precaution were issued on board her American Airlines flight.

She suggested, however, that Jamaicans take the matter seriously because of the increasing number of Chinese working and living on the island.

“Here, there’s a lot of Chinese working, so I would be concerned, because they are in and out. It is what it is. There is nothing really we can do other than take precaution,” said Hunte, before enquiring where at the airport she could purchase a mask.

Canadian Kevin Carpenter said that he was not worried even amid growing concern among world leaders and medical experts that the virus could become a global health nightmare.

“I live in a city of five million people and there have only been two cases of the virus and no deaths,” he told The Gleaner.

Upon arriving at NMIA, Carpenter said that he was quizzed about any travelling he might have done within the past six weeks, but revealed that coronavirus did not surface in the brief conversation.

“I told him I haven’t been anywhere but I could tell he was asking with purpose,” he said.

One male customs officer who was spotted wearing a mask outside the arrivals hall said he and his co-workers were eager to strictly follow safety protocol because immigration staff were the first point of contact with travellers.

“Basically, we have to pay keen attention to passengers coming from Asia. We are working on a programme where we will be scanning them and have health facilities where we can take them to have them checked,” he said.

Paul Leys, a cab driver who operates from NMIA, demanded that management do more to inform and protect those carrying out various functions at the airport. He expressed concern about the high number of travellers to Jamaica from China and any risks that might be associated.