$1 billion spent to bring home Jamaicans - Holness
By Lynford Simpson
The Government has spent a staggering J$1 billion to test, feed and house the approximately 2,300 Jamaicans who have been repatriated over the past five weeks.
Based on protocols in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Jamaicans who have returned home in recent weeks - the majority of them aboard cruise ships - have been placed under a mandatory two-week quarantine.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness disclosed the figure on Tuesday as he updated the House of Representatives on the government’s management of the COVID-19 crisis that has infected 590 people and killed nine since Jamaica’s first case was confirmed on March 10.
Explaining how the money was spent, Holness said: “This would be for testing, for quarantining, for the logistics around all the operations, for meals and transportation”.
He also told the House that the figure included the cost for hotel rooms. About 1,800 of those who have returned are cruise ship workers and most have been housed at the Bahia Principe hotel in Runaway Bay, St Ann.
When pressed by Opposition Members of Parliament about the large spend so far, Holness said: “Recall Mr Speaker that we had to pay for hotel rooms, 14 days quarantine, we have to pay for transportation, we have to pay for meals”.
The prime minister also reminded that the Government had initially considered asking returning Jamaicans to contribute US$20 per day towards their accommodation but that idea was quickly shelved following criticism.
“If you add into that now, the mobilization of the logistics, the security forces, the nurses that had to be there, the additional staff that we’ve had to hire, it is a massive expenditure and it is adding up.
“If you were to take in all the costs totally it (the amount) would be just above $1 billion,” said Holness.
He also defended the Government’s decision to test and quarantine returning Jamaicans, noting that of the 2,300 who have re-entered the country, at least 50 have tested positive for the coronavirus. Those who test positive for the virus could spend up to several more weeks in isolation before they are released. This, as persons who test positive for COVID-19 in Jamaica must return two negative tests within a 48-hour period before they are released from isolation.
Meanwhile, North Clarendon Member of Parliament, Horace Daley, said no cost was too high to bring Jamaicans home. However, he said this is so “as long as there is no careless spending”.
Holness agreed with him that no cost was too high to repatriate Jamaicans and he assured him that there was "no careless spending".
For his part, Leader of Opposition Business in the House, Dr Morais Guy, noted that the total mentioned by the prime minister amounted to roughly $430,000 per person. He suggested that the government take another look at its accounting.