The cohort of Jamaicans that returned yesterday from the United States and Canada under the Controlled Re-Entry Programme has been encountering a number of difficulties at their quarantine location. These difficulties relate primarily to delays in the admission process at the quarantine facility and the lack of timely provision of meals.
First of all, I must unreservedly apologise to every returning citizen who has had to endure less than favourable conditions. The issues encountered are completely unacceptable. I asked Ministers Christopher Tufton and Matthew Samuda to visit the quarantine facility today to get a first-hand view of the situation. Arising from the visit, the Government has already taken some remedial actions and we will do everything we can to completely rectify the situation. A preliminary assessment has revealed that the situation arose from capacity issues and unforeseen circumstances such as weather and a power outage, against a background of heightened panic and stigma.
We have made much progress on several aspects of the Controlled Re-Entry Programme. The application and approval process is fully managed online through the JamCovid19 platform either on the website or via the iOS or Android app. We have streamlined the process at the airport with the processing time cut by half compared to the previous cohort that arrived on Wednesday last week. Many persons spanning several Ministries and Agencies have worked tirelessly to get our citizens home. It is extremely unfortunate that this situation has dampened the happiness that our citizens would have had upon returning home to Jamaica.
The Government is very sympathetic to the plight of Jamaicans overseas who wish to return home many of whom are under severe hardship. As a result, the Government has gone above and beyond to facilitate the return of our Jamaicans. This has stretched the capacity of our public health system and our frontline workers. The reality is that we now have over 600 persons in quarantine and isolation facilities. We also have four quarantine areas in St. Mary, and many other active contact tracing exercises ongoing. This while conducting all the other public health duties. While we are working assiduously to bring our citizens home, we cannot over-extend ourselves. We have to work within our capacity.
Out of compassion and an overwhelming desire to bring our citizens home, we are now beyond our quarantine capacity. It will therefore be at least 14 days before we are able to accommodate any sizeable additional cohort. I have directed the Ministries and Agencies involved to use this period to explore ways of rapidly scaling up our capacity both in accommodations and logistics to ensure a positive experience for all.
Over 8,000 Jamaicans have already applied to return home through the JamCovid19 system. To accommodate this number utilizing state quarantine would mean an inordinate delay in their return. The Government is already working towards the development of a home quarantine solution incorporating technology that will facilitate the geofencing and monitoring of persons re-entering Jamaica to ensure that they stay in their designated quarantine area which may include their home.
We continue to manage this process in a manner that keeps all Jamaicans, both those on island and those overseas safe. We again thank you for your patience and understanding.
I wish to assure all Jamaicans overseas who wish to return home, that your Government is working assiduously to get you back home as soon as possible.