Bartlett supports decision to deny cruise ship clearance

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Bartlett supports decision to deny cruise ship clearance

Thursday, February 27, 2020

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says he fully supports the health ministry's decision on Tuesday to deny clearance for a cruise ship headed for Ocho Rios to dock as concerns were heightened over the threat of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, Barlett said Cabinet had agreed that issues relating to the possible spread of COVID-19 would be handled primarily by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton and his ministry.

“We have had consultations at Cabinet and health is the lead ministry on the matter of health security. The Ministry of Tourism has had discussions with that ministry and felt that the best possible decision was taken,” he explained.

The Observer also spoke with Dr Tufton on Tuesday, who insisted that it was the only decision that could have been taken under the circumstances, due to the lack of information from the staff of the MSC Meraviglia.

Reports are that a member of the ship's crew had fallen ill and a diagnosis had not been forthcoming.

“Can you imagine what would have happened if the crew member was eventually diagnosed with COVID-19?” asked Tufton.

He added that he was disappointed with the crew of the vessel, who should have informed the Jamaican authorities of the status of the crew member who had been unwell onboard, as the individual was known to have visited ports where he could have contracted the illness.

The crew member's illness was eventually diagnosed as influenza.

A release issued by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday said that the vessel arrived at approximately 8:30 am and upon inspection by the port health officials, it was discovered that a crew member had been placed in isolation on board.

“The crew member had a cough, fever, and associated muscle pains, with a travel history to a country of interest relating to the COVID-19,” the release added.

The three-year-old vessel, with over 6,000 passengers and crew members, includes Jamaica as a port of call on a 14-day, round-trip Caribbean and Antilles cruise.

Responses from the cruise company, MSC, which owns the vessel, as well as some guests who posted online, suggested that they were disappointed that after eight hours in Jamaican waters they had not received clearance, at which time the captain decided to depart to another destination.

MSC Cruises, in a statement posted on its website yesterday, said that it “is extremely disappointed that Jamaican authorities yesterday delayed a decision for many hours to give our ship the necessary clearance to disembark guests”.

But Barlett said that Jamaica's position was very clear in terms of the concern about the sick crew member.

“We are concerned about the health and safety of all visitors who come to Jamaica, at all times. If the destination is compromised because of any of these [health] matters, and the product is compromised, you won't get the visitors to come anyway. So you must always make sure that the right decisions are taken in the best interest of all,” he said.

“When we talk about destination assurance it is a promise to the market that we want everybody who comes to Jamaica to appreciate that they will enjoy the same level of safety and security as the ordinary Jamaican. That's the promise in the market,” the minister said.

He added that Jamaica does not want to heighten the fear of the COVID-19 virus, but recognises that it is not the first time that there has been a pandemic and certain precautions have to be taken until the threat no longer exists.

Balford Henry

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