Thu | Oct 6, 2022

As COVID wave looms, JHTA rejects resumption of pre-travel testing

Schools reel from spate of infections

Published:Monday | May 16, 2022 | 12:10 AMJanet Silvera and Rasbert Turner/Gleaner Writers -

The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) said it would not agree with a reimposition of pre-travel testing for incoming visitors to the island even as health experts suggest that a fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is under way. JHTA...

The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) said it would not agree with a reimposition of pre-travel testing for incoming visitors to the island even as health experts suggest that a fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is under way.

JHTA President Clifton Reader, in response to Gleaner queries on Sunday, said that more than 85 per cent of guests coming into the country are vaccinated - compliance that is triple the take-up of locals.

“While we are seeing an increase in cases being linked to a fifth wave of the pandemic, we are also experiencing the lowest rate of hospitalisations since its start 30 months ago,” stated Reader.

Reader has called for the Government to revive its flagging vaccination programme,which has failed to achieve its March 31 target of inoculating 65 per cent of the population. About a quarter of Jamaicans are fully vaccinated. He has also appealed for the observance of health and safety protocols, such as hand hygiene, social distancing, and mask wearing, although the mask mandate has lapsed.

Jamaica suspended pre-testing for arriving passengers four weeks ago. However, the United States, its largest source market, still requires all air passengers two years or older to show a negative test (PCR or rapid antigen) taken no more than a day before travel before boarding a flight to that country.

Passengers who have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days are also allowed to board flights to the US without a negative test as proof once they can furnish the documentation.

Meanwhile, anxiety is growing over the impact of increasing coronavirus infections on the education sector amid reports of school closures.

Infection rates have climbed from single digit to as high as 30 per cent last Friday, and deaths crossed the 3,000 mark on the weekend.

The concern emerges as students prepare for end-of-year and external examinations, with the country recording a positivity rate of more than 30 per cent.

Among the schools that have had to shutter their compounds are Manchester High and Enid Bennett High in Bog Walk, St Catherine.

“As a result of the increased number of students and staff members who have reported flulike symptoms, the school has taken the precautionary measure to return to full online classes starting May 11, 2022, until further notice,” correspondence issued under the signature of Jasford Gabriel, the principal of Manchester High, said.

Enid Bennett High also closed its doors last Tuesday, parents like Marcus Johnson said, as staffers tested positive. A water lockoff triggered by a work stoppage may have hastened the decision.

“If you have flulike symptoms, them should not be in school, so I am just hoping that it (the COVID-19) doesn’t spread throughout the school,” Shanice Thompson, a parent, said.

Both schools are scheduled to reopen today.

Attempts to get comment from Enid Bennett and the Ministry of Education were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Councillor Patricia Harris of the Angels division, in which Enid Bennett High is located, confirmed the outbreak.

“I was made aware that after the teachers returned from a function in Portmore, there was sniffling among the group. Some did tests, and COVID was discovered. However, on Tuesday, the school nurse did tests, and 10 personnel were found with the symptoms,” Harris, a senior educator, said in a Gleaner interview.

The councillor has warned Jamaicans to be mindful that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.

The operators of public passenger vehicles have complained of the looming risk of a domino effect. Public transportation has been cited as a key means of transmissibility because of close contact.

“It’s my second trip since yesterday, as the students not travelling, so we are suffering badly,” Shawn Kennedy, a bus driver, said one day last week.

At least two schools in Clarendon were shuttered this week for COVID-19 deep cleaning.

Similar action is pending at a third.

Dr Kimberly Scarlett Campbell, medical officer of health for Clarendon, has reported that there have been numerous school closures.

“We closed two schools this week. There was a school where you have six teachers who were positive in one community, and there was another school up north where they went on a trip, and there were teachers from different locations in Clarendon who went on the trip and persons were coming down with symptoms,” Scarlett Campbell said last Wednesday.