Thu | Jul 9, 2020

Letter of the Day | The risk of opening our borders

Published:Wednesday | June 3, 2020 | 12:20 AM


It is a matter of concern that the country’s borders will reopen to allow persons of unknown COVID-19 status to freely enter and move among our people. Colleagues of mine have expressed their frustration at having worked hard to protect fellow Jamaicans and themselves only to have it potentially eroded by the new Government decision.

It is understandable that the prime minister would like to get money into the pockets of those in need, as the Government is unable to provide further assistance while the economy is floundering; however, the inevitable increase in COVID-19 cases is worrisome.

The statement that persons will be taken from ‘travel bubble’ countries is interesting, as I wonder where does that put our neighbour to the north. The minister of tourism already identified Jamaica as being a country that would fall into the ‘domestic’ travel for Americans, so therein lies some conflict, as far as I see it, unless the USA is also a ‘travel bubble’ country. The minister anticipated Jamaica would be providing welcome relief for travellers from the north.

It would have been good for the Government to allow private labs to take on the task of rapid testing of the visitors and recouping the cost through a travel cess, or other means, given the financial constraints facing the Government. Visitors could also be tested prior to beginning their flight or be asked to produce a certificate indicating, within the last 72 hours, a negative test from a reputable lab in their country of origin. This process would be similar to obtaining an international health certificate for yellow fever.

The signing of a pledge document by visitors attesting to their status, as proposed by the Government, offers little surety. These visitors will be walking among our people and so the wearing of masks while in public should be mandatory. It cannot be free entry for COVID-19, for if this is to be, why are we being so rigorous with our nationals?


In less than 14 days we will be in for a rough ride. Our sympathies to the hotel workers who have no choice but to work in a potentially unsafe environment as much as their employers take steps to protect them. This is when we need the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as the Factories Regulation is not really applicable outside of factories. We need laws that are relevant and speak directly to the group of workers they seek to protect.

The honourable prime minister is indeed between a rock and a hard place, and for that he has my sympathies. We suffered a glancing blow while we were in lockdown mode; what will we do with a full-frontal blow? The health system cannot manage. Am I being pessimistic or overly cautious?


Chair, National Bioethics

Committee of Jamaica