Jamaica on Monday (June 15) welcomed 523 nationals and non-nationals to the island as the country reopened its borders to international travel.
This was after a near three-month shutdown in an effort to contain the local spread of the coronavirus (COVID 19).
The first of six flights to the island, an American Airlines aircraft from Miami, Florida, with approximately 125 passengers, arrived at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St. James, at about 11:50 a.m.
On hand to welcome the disembarking passengers were Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett; Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton; Director of Tourism, Donovan White; Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President, Omar Robinson, among other officials.
Passengers, under the guidance of public health officials, were observed readily adhering to the stipulated health protocols established for the return of visitors to the island.
They were required to undergo health screening and risk assessment, including temperature checks and an interview by a health officer.
Speaking with journalists at the airport, Minister Bartlett said the logistics that were established enabled a smooth reopening of the airport to international travellers.
“I have never, in recent times, seen all key partners and elements come together so seamlessly in such a short time, to create a seamless flow of a process that is going to see not just Jamaica positioning itself as one of the first countries to be open but also one where the protocols are all in place,” he said.
“I want to use this opportunity to herald the soft opening of the tourism industry and, by extension, the continued soft opening of the economy of Jamaica. This morning, in my mind, was the fulfilment and the realisation of real collectivism,” Minister Bartlett said.
He commended the collaborative effort of the many agencies involved in the logistics, noting that the Ministry of Health and Wellness is “the backbone of this whole effort”.
Mr. Bartlett added that the phased reopening of the tourism sector provides a “great sense of hope that our jobs are coming back”.
“Just coming into this airport and being greeted first of all by the red caps (porters), signals the prospect that 5,000 people, who work at this airport, see their jobs coming back. With it is the responsibility to make sure that we follow the health protocols and that we manage this crisis well,” he noted.
For his part, Dr. Tufton informed that more than 100 health officials from the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA) were on location to ensure “a seamless process as long as persons comply with the directives given”.
“Our health officers have been put in place working closely with our tourism partners. We have spent the better part of the last number of days working out the logistics here on the ground at the airport. It’s still early days, but so far so good,” he said.
He noted that “based on the numbers that have expressed an interest, we are encouraged that non-Jamaicans have confidence in our processes here and that they are willing to comply with those processes in their interest and also in the interest of the general population”.
“That augurs well for a stronger product when the time comes for further expansion and other phases that will come,” Dr. Tufton added.
The Health and Wellness Minister lauded the WRHA and other key players who have been working effortlessly to establish the necessary protocols ahead of Monday’s scheduled reopening.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MBJ Airports Limited, operator of the Sangster International Airport, Shane Munroe, said “we are excited to see passengers back at the airport” expressing confidence that the raft of safety measures implemented will safeguard the safety of staff and travellers.
“We are encouraged by what the team has done so far, and the coming together of the various agencies is certainly working. So far, we see passengers excited to travel much more than we would have even imagined,” he noted.