Soon after the Jamaican government signed an agreement to increase trade with China, health officials on the Caribbean island imposed sanctions prohibiting travel between the two destinations due to the alarm raised about the coronavirus, which reportedly was first detected in China’s Wuhan province.
Already being described to be of burgeoning pandemic concern, Jamaica’s Ministry of Health quickly moved to ban travel to China and also restrict tourists arriving from the infected country.
The two governments expressed delight on issues related to improving economic and technical cooperation with provisions that the Chinese would “provide grant funding for the implementation of mutually agreed projects.”
However, one year later with global fears of a new virus originating from Mainland China, Jamaica boldly stopped flights originating from the destination as well any heading there.
Dr. Christopher Tufton, minister of health explained that the severity of the restriction was necessary because Jamaica’s size made it “particularly vulnerable.”
“The virus offers a clear and present danger,” Tufton said last week. Adding that “the consequences could be dire.”
In a message released after a group of 19 Chinese tourists were denied entry on arrival to Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, the minister said quarantine protocols were positioned and the tourists were sent back.
“While the Latin American and Caribbean region has not yet reported any case of the coronavirus, it is only logical to assume that the virus is likely to hit the region’s shores at any moment now, considering its current geographical spread and trajectory,” Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism added.
Although the island’s travel and tourism industry could suffer an economic setback, the ministers were united in enforcing the ban as a precautionary tactic.
Earlier in the week, Jamaican Akara Goldson who has been living in China since 2018 expressed fear for her life.
In a desperate phone call posted on social media, Goldson said “I don’t go outside – I am even afraid to take out my garbage. I am so scared – Jamaica really needs to do something.”
She implored her government to help evacuate her and other Jamaicans living there.
“We all want to leave (China) because this is a death and life situation.”
Her fearful and desperate tone struck a chord with diasporans here and in Jamaica echoing pleas to the government to rescue the student based at the Anhui Agricultural University.
There on scholarship she expressed fear and hopelessness and demanded to be rescued.
“We don’t want to stay in China, we want to go home, I am scared, I can’t sleep…I feel trapped…there is no food…people are scared…I am afraid…” a traumatized-sounding Goldson said.
Allegedly, there are hundreds of Jamaican students in China, all are begging to be rescued from the desperate situation Goldson described.
The health hazard caused by the coronavirus demands that everyone wears protective face masks, which she said with such a high demand are scarce to purchase.
She also posted images of empty food shelves in supermarkets.
Kamina Johnson Smith, the island’s foreign affairs and trade minister responded to the plea saying that an accurate count of Jamaicans residing in China was not verifiable but that an online registry was immediately installed and reportedly more than 29 Jamaican students and teachers who live near the epicenter of the Wuhan area where the virus was first discovered recently registered.
Unconfirmed reports are that approximately 375 more Jamaicans reside in other Chinese provinces.
“All of them are in good health and most are following the official guidelines and procedures,” the minister said, “We know some of them are nervous and that is understandable.”
She explained that the government is doing everything possible to “mitigate their difficulties” but due to restrictions by China to stop airlines from leaving China and other bureaucratic impediments she was unable to immediately resolve the diplomatic emergency.
An added issue is that before traveling to Asia many Jamaicans nationals failed to declare their intentions of traveling to the region.
“You would think that going as far as China our people would have ensured” registration with the embassy or even notify the foreign minister on arrival.
Simultaneous to the travel ban on flights bound for China that was imposed by that Caribbean island, Haiti immediately declared its position on the global health scare by refusing to allow a private jet carrying 14 Chinese passengers into Touissaint L’Ourverture Airport in Port-au-Prince,
Passengers were forced to remain onboard the aircraft “ruling out any possibility of contamination of the coronavirus,” a representative of the National Civil Aviation Office said.
The same plane and its passengers had been diverted from landing in the Bahamas when the government there refused to permit landing.
Later that day, Portugal granted permission for the plane and its passengers to enter the European nation.
Although there are no direct commercial flights between mainland China and Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago have since announced travel bans.
Reportedly, St. Lucia prevented a cruise ship from docking at its Castries port after it was reported that 14 passengers onboard were treated for upper respiratory issues.
Homeland Security here has issued strict travel restrictions limiting flights from China into specific airports where passengers will be monitored and quarantined.
A ‘do not travel to China’ warning was imposed on Jan. 23, 2020 with evacuations of US personnel from Wuhan, China.
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