The story of an eventful return


The story of an eventful return

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, May 18, 2020

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Owen (“Owen saving lives and protecting property” on Twitter), who is a front line worker in Jamaica's COVID-19 response, was downhearted as he listened to criticisms from folks in quarantine regarding their meals and check-in arrangements. In our telephone conversation, he listed the processes that “the Government got right — the facilities, the transportation, the contractors to provide meals”. However, as a member of the team moving the returnees from the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) to St Ann, he admitted, “We civil servants got some things wrong.”

“There should have been persons on the ground providing incident command and logistics,” he said, suggesting that if such services had been organised with the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Fire Brigade, the arrival of the 192 returning Jamaicans to the Grand Bahia Principe last Wednesday evening would have gone better.

He was clear, though, that there was no truth to the allegation that they did not receive a meal. “Every single person on the 12 premium buses received a meal and water,” he said. He also shared that a colonel, who is a medical doctor, visited every bus, listing passengers' health issues.

In spite of this, he was appalled at the abusive behaviour of some of the passengers and the litter they left on the buses: “We had garbage bags on every bus, but still some left chicken bones and rice on the floor. One woman even changed her baby and left dirty diapers on the bus seat.”

On arrival at the hotel, the processing of the passengers took too long, he said, and there was only one bathroom available. The parking area was a distance from the hotel, so they had to be using an ambulance to shuttle the passengers, giving priority to those with health issues. He recommended that portable toilets be put in place to prevent a recurrence of this.

He noted that if the list of passengers, dietary guidelines, and other details had been e-mailed ahead of time from the airport to the hotel the long process could have been minimised.

Owen said his colleagues were astonished at the amount of luggage brought by the passengers, who seemed to believe that front line personnel were also to double as baggage handlers.

When the passengers were finally settled in their rooms, Owen said he and fellow team members left food trays at every single door. “We did not leave there until 2:00 am on Thursday morning,” he said, and was back on the job in a few hours. In fact, he had booked a call with me on Thursday, but had to reschedule because of several emergencies.

Owen is asking the public to understand that he and other members of front line teams are working sometimes close to 48-hour shifts. “This is a learning curve,” he says. “We will make mistakes, and we must work to fix them.”

Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted the complaints made on several news programmes last week and stated: “The issues encountered are completely unacceptable. I asked ministers Christopher Tufton and Matthew Samuda to visit the quarantine facility today… the Government has already taken some remedial actions and we will do everything we can to completely rectify the situation.”

Minister Tufton visited the location and assured that additional personnel would be brought in to serve the people in quarantine.

Even as the Government moves to make the folks in quarantine more comfortable, they should also look to the conditions of our front line workers. They need to have regular breaks and personal protective equipment (PPE) changes. Owen shared on social media: “You know when I put on this PPE from 9am I can't take it off until 2am or later the next day, and it's hot and sweaty.”

The 100th recovery

Jamaica Observer Reporter Candiece Knight gave an account — in the Friday, May 15, 2020 edition — of the “Covid Conversation” between Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton and “Patient D”, who was the 100th patient in Jamaica to have recovered from COVID-19. Patient D was one of five family members who contracted the virus from her daughter, an employee of a Portmore call centre; the other four were her daughter's three children and their father.

Patient D is quoted as saying of the facilities, “Up here they feed you good... They feed [you] big people good. They talk to you, like sometimes if you don't have on your mask they tell you to put on your mask. But here is not for babies, because they don't have what to give the babies. They gave them food, yes, but the snacks and so, they didn't get that.”

The household worker is looking forward to going home but is worried about the discrimination that fellow COVID-19 survivors are facing as people may not want to let her into their homes. She ascribed the recovery of her family to drinking lots of water and inhaling steam. Consultant physician Dr Samantha Nicholson-Spence agrees that these practices can help.

As Jamaica's COVID-19 patients recover steadily, with the nine individuals who have sadly passed suffering from underlying conditions, there is speculation around our hardiness. Some ascribe it to our strict immunisation regimen, while others to our habitual personal cleanliness. As the curfew hours are lessened and churches and bars reopen, let us not become complacent though. Keep wearing your mask, stay six feet apart, sanitise constantly and call the Health Ministry Hotline at 888-663-5683 if you develop symptoms such as fever and shortness of breath.

We welcome news that there will be testing of residents of not only government infirmaries but also private nursing homes. The apparent indifference to the aged in some countries where nursing homes account for a high number of COVID-19 deaths is heartbreaking. Just as Jamaica was lauded on international news for our keen handling of the pandemic, let us ensure that this same level of attention is given to our precious elderly.

COVID-19 caring

Inspector Natalie Palmer-Mair of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Community Relations Division has been organising islandwide distribution of care packages, and last Friday Emily Shields shared interviews on Hotline with some of the recipients who are gracious Jamaicans stalwarts. They are deeply appreciative and, in turn, give their blessings to the officers and to the people of Jamaica. Many of them are dealing with health and housing issues but they remain positive.

While we were enjoying our Mother's Day treats, women officers of the Jamaica Constabulary Force had to be on duty, and so Sergeant Jerr Johnson-Heron, at Kingston Central, decided that the week would not pass without recognition of these great ladies who are also great mothers. On Friday, they gathered under the leadership of Superintendent Maldria Jones-Williams at their East Queen Street headquarters, where they enjoyed a post-Mother's Day brunch and gifts provided by Island Grill and the Digicel Foundation.

We salute the many front line workers who are balancing care for their families with their dedication to their country.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at




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