Quarantining visitors ‘under scrutiny’ by MOH unit

Head of the national COVID-19 Monitoring Unit Ronald Chapman has promised the highest level of scrutiny and swift sanctions against local hotels, resorts and other local properties where visitors are found to be in breach of the country’s quarantine protocols.

In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Chapman revealed that the surveillance of specific guests is not within the unit’s purview, but warned that managers of local accommodations can be held liable.

The public health official explained that arriving passengers are given a red wristband at the country’s ports of entry, which indicate that they are supposed to enter and remain in quarantine at an approved government facility or at an approved property, including select hotels, villas and guest houses.

He, however, noted that while the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit is tasked with approving quarantine facilities, the national Quarantine Manager in the Ministry of Health and Wellness is responsible for managing breaches of quarantine.

“One of the things that must be in place is security and that security is there to ensure that exactly what happened over the weekend does not happen, so that we don’t have people who decide that they need to go anywhere and leave quarantine,” Chapman explained on Tuesday.

“Not only must there be security, but there are also villa managers and hotel managers who make the application to have their property used as a quarantine facility and they are held responsible for the actions of the guests, as well as the penalties that we spoke about earlier,” he added.

According to the Emergency (COVID-19) Protocols, quarantine breaches can attract a maximum fine of $50,000 or one year imprisonment or both.

Barbados TODAY on Monday disclosed troubling details about a breach of quarantine protocols involving at least one visitor from the United Kingdom that resulted in a small COVID-19 cluster on the West Coast.

Following a number of questions from Barbados TODAY on Monday, Press Secretary to Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Roy Morris disclosed that Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George had confirmed the existence of the “small cluster”.

Further investigations by Barbados TODAY uncovered a breach of quarantine protocols involving a U.K guest who ventured to a house party while awaiting results from a second test.

In the meantime, however, Chapman has vowed to increase monitoring of approved accommodations, which has started over the last 24 to 48 hours, following news of the recent quarantine breach.

“There is no leniency when it comes to guests coming in from overseas. I know Barbadians like to think that there’s this ‘us against them’ thing, and that we are going after the ‘small guy’ and not the ‘big guy’…but the fact of the matter is that we have to assess risk and once we do a risk assessment, we act accordingly,” Chapman revealed on Tuesday.

“So from yesterday [Monday], today and going forward, all of my officers have been working on the South and West coasts at the hotels, and we have been dealing with the protocols, with respect to guests moving around the hotels – masks, face-shields, and all of the other protocols throughout the hotels.

“We are dealing with the issues, we have not left anyone out of the crowd and we are presently putting plans in place for the Old Year’s Night and the other celebrations that are coming off over the weekend. So it is a lot of work, but I can guarantee that there is no favouritism,” he added.

The unit’s head has also shed light on a number of shocking protocol breaches, which have been in the minority, but could have resulted in major outbreaks of the dreaded virus.

Chapman confirmed: “We have had some reports of persons taking off their red bands. So if you see someone with a red band, that person should not be out and about walking around and you should contact the Ministry of Health as quickly as possible if you see something like that. Once the period of quarantine is over, those red bands are removed.

“So there is a system in place and it has been working… for a very long time. Yes, we have had persons who would have sneaked past security and so on, but for the most part, we haven’t had many issues given the number of persons who would have been quarantined and come into the island,” he told Barbados TODAY.

Chapman also acknowledged that recent delays in returning the results of COVID-19 testing have left quarantining visitors “a little agitated” with their extended isolation, but promised that the issues were being rectified.

On Sunday, Minister of Health and Wellness Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic warned hoteliers to “pull their weight” and urged visitors to honour the terms of their quarantine, as he alluded to the latest cluster.

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