Opposition against ending pretesting of visitors for COVID-19

THE Opposition says it is not in support of any move to discontinue the COVID-19 pretesting requirement for tourists.

Opposition spokeswoman on tourism, Senator Janice Allen told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that a more favourable approach would be to, in addition to the PCR test results, approve the submission of rapid antigen test results for visitors.

“It’s important that safety is at the heart of everything that we do and as an Opposition we certainly are of the view that pretesting should continue,” she stated.

Health Minister Dr Cristopher Tufton recently indicated that the Government could discontinue the protocol which it effected on July 10, as part of measures to stem the flow of positive COVID-19 cases into the island.

The pretesting requirement was implemented for four American states initially, as well as a number of other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom.

At a ministry press conference, Dr Tufton said that with the risk profile for some states now on the decline the ministry had made recommendations to Cabinet to review the initial rationale for pretesting.

“We are reviewing the pretesting approach which is now in effect primarily for North America but (also) other countries …when it was introduced initially in four states, then extended across North America it was based on the significant increase in positivity rates in that jurisdiction. Today we are seeing adjustments in that risk profile where a number of states are seeing a decline in positives and in some instances its significant. The inclination, based on that assessment, is to review and determine to what extent there is a need for the pretesting either across the board or in selected states.”

“The public health position will be recommended to the Cabinet and we are looking to have a decision taken by the end of this month for the first of October if possible…it could possibly mean that we would do away with pretesting, if not altogether, in regard to certain states,” he outlined.

“That should address some of the challenges that we have been experiencing as it relates to our visitors,” the minister said.

Senator Allen said, however, that the challenges in the approval system could be ironed out, through efficiency.

“The other side of pretesting, which is the process by which persons are approved, needs to be more efficient, and while we think it is important for the economy to get going, it can’t be at the expense of safety,” Allen said.

It would be useful, she argued, to include rapid antigen testing in the pretesting protocol, as this would improve turnaround times for presentation of results and speed up the approval process.

On Tuesday, while noting that the requirement for pretesting is being reviewed, Prime Minister Andrew Holness stressed that for now, the protocol remains in place.

As COVID-19 began to surge locally, with the reopening of the country’s borders to residents and visitors, the health minister in August noted that North America was a major source of the cases being recorded here at the time. He was speaking against the background of a level three Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory cautioning Americans against travelling to the island.

The Government initially implemented the requirement in July, for tourists from New York, to electronically upload their COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results ahead of travel, for New York, Florida, Texas, and Arizona, which were considered high-risk states at the time.

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