The nations of the Caribbean are as concerned about those who cross their borders as in the rest of the world. That is why, since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus (officially called COVID-19) as a global health emergency, the rulers began taking concrete actions.
To date, no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Latin America or in the Caribbean region according to the Pan American Health Organization, which helps prepare the region for possible cases.
Jamaica – along with other Caribbean countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago – impose travel restrictions to and from China after COVID-19 was located in a market in Wuhan, a Chinese city with 11 million inhabitants.
Until February 8, 2020, Barbados had not imposed bans but had insisted on rigorous testing on all entry routes.
Not all Caribbean citizens were satisfied with this criterion:
@christufton, @themohwgovjm you need to inform the Ministry of Health & Wellness in #Barbados about the severity of the #coronavirus #nCoV. If their borders are porous it will allow #infected persons to hop through #Caribbean states, avoiding quarantine.https: //t.co/dBmaoA20pw pic.twitter.com/TOHhRjz2tK
– ovrhillznvallyz (@ovrhillznvallyz) February 8, 2020
You need to inform the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Barbados about the severity of the coronavirus. If the borders are porous, this will allow infected people to travel through Caribbean countries, avoiding quarantine.
These measures will have consequences for a region that depends clearly on tourism, an industry that seems to be thriving, reportedly, as thousands of tourists travel to one or more islands daily. The gradual increase in travel restrictions in more than 20 countries due to the spread of the virus will lower the pace of world tourism, during the Caribbean's high season.
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines have taken the drastic measure of prohibiting access to passengers and crew with a Chinese passport.
It is rare for tourists to travel directly between China and the Caribbean, although it has intensified in recent years due to the proliferation of projects financed by China that allowed a constant flow of Chinese workers, government officials and executives at Caribbean airports, that generated concern in social networks.
The nervousness about the virus prompted the first of two press conferences organized by Jamaican Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton on January 28. The session was held in response to rumors that a case of coronavirus had been diagnosed at the Knigston University hospital in the West Indies. The rumor was false, but the media reported anyway.
Two hours later, in a press room full of journalists, Minister Tufton assured the country that the patient, who arrived from China, was not suffering from COVID-19, the so-called coronavirus that claimed more than a thousand lives in the Asian country .
On January 30, the minister led a press tour of Kingston International Airport to inform Jamaicans of the verification procedures put in place and tweeted:
I visited the Norman Manley International airport to see first hand the screen procedures and isolation areas for incoming passengers. I am satisfied that the facilities and health personnel are equipped and prepared. pic.twitter.com/iUmunCd3YY
– Dr. Chris Tufton (@christufton) January 31, 2020
I visited Norman Mainley International Airport to see first-hand the procedures for verifying and isolating areas for incoming passengers. I am satisfied that the facilities and health personnel are well equipped and prepared.
The second emergency session on the ban on travel to Jamaica to and from China occurred the next day and was transmitted on the minister's Facebook page.
Other politicians in the region, including the Prime Minister of Granada, Keith Mitchell, sought to suppress misinformation and attempts to spread fear on social networks, and noted that these people “are playing with the emotions of the population”
Some Jamaican media looked for compatriots living in China to learn about their experiences:
NEWS: just spoke with Akara Goldson a Jamaican student on Anhui province in China begging the Jamaican govt to get her and others home. She says food & water are scarce, and she has never been so scared in her life. She says other countries are flying their nationals out
– Dionne JacksonMiller (@djmillerJA) January 30, 2020
BREAKING NEWS: I just spoke with Akara Goldson, a Jamaican student in Anhui, province of China, who begs the Jamaican Government to take her home with others. He says that food and water are scarce and he has never been so scared in his life. He says that other countries are transporting their countrymen.
On February 7, the Foreign Minister explained that due to financial and logistical obstacles, the Jamaican government was not able to repatriate compatriots currently living in Wuhan. According to the minister, currently estimated 600 Jamaicans living in 23 provinces throughout China, many of them students.
If COVID-19 continues to expand despite China's serious efforts to contain it, more prohibitions and stricter measures may be implemented throughout the region, which would imply economic uncertainty and relations between the Caribbean and China.
Read the Global Voices special coverage on the Wuhan coronavirus impact.