In a clear demonstration that COVID-19 is no respecter of class, colour or social standing, Jamaicans owning private jets mostly share the predicament of cruise ship workers and other Jamaicans stuck overseas, as the Government struggles to come up with protocol to bring home all citizens.
Impeccable Jamaica Observer sources said there is wrangling among Cabinet members over the lack of protocol which has left ordinary Jamaicans both on foreign land and sea as well as private jet owners and their pilots in limbo. The matter is expected to force its way onto this week’s Cabinet agenda.
The Government closed Jamaica’s air and sea ports on March 24, 2020 to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and stipulated that anyone entering the island would have to be quarantined for 14 days. But a lack of state facilities to house returnees is the apparent cause of a stalemate.
The cry of Jamaicans sailing almost aimlessly on cruise ships or stranded in several lands, mainly the United States, has been loudest but the issue of the private jets, estimated to be between 15 and 20, has only now begun to surface.
“There is a feeling that the Government has to be careful not to send a signal that private jet owners can come in while other less fortunate Jamaicans can’t,” said one source who is aware of the divergent views among Government members. “It would not be a good look.”
The 43 cruise ship workers who came into Jamaican waters on April 2 on board the Marella Discovery 2 and had to leave, continue to be a sore point. However, that group is expected to arrive in the island on Wednesday following an arrangement between the Jamaican and British governments.
But those sympathetic to the jet owners argued that for the sake of the economy, businessmen so affected should also be able to get home, noting that deportees had been accepted from the US and quarantined in state facilities.
“The activities of these businessmen, together impact the bulk of the workers in the private sector which has been reeling from the shutdown of the economy, occasioning thousands of layoffs and untold suffering, as efforts to contain the virus tightened,” the source said. “Business people are key to the reopening of the economy.
“Moreover, the days when a private jet was seen as an exclusive privilege is long gone. It is just a modern tool that facilitates rapid movement from one point to the next for the efficient running of businesses that are benefiting thousands of people and the country’s economy. Let’s stop cutting off our nose to spite our face.
“Indeed, the concept of private jets is outmoded because what we mainly have in all countries now are business jets that ferry not only their owners but company executives around. It’s crucial to have them if you are going to develop a successful business sector operating and competing in real time.
“Senior politicians everywhere make use of these business jets to do government business at little or no cost to tax payers. Hopefully at some time when the economy can afford it, the Jamaican government will have a business jet to help create efficiencies for the benefit of our island.
“Private planes also come in handy for medical emergencies that can’t wait for scheduled commercial planes. Emergencies don’t operate by schedule. It is hardly to believe that people still think they are so exclusive in a world ruled by the Internet.
“There was a time when few Jamaicans owned a motor vehicle. Today owning a car is hardly more than a means of travelling around, with just a bit more convenience than having to wait on a bus. Only the most backward person does not understand the need for business jets in these times,” the government insider said.
The source suggested that Government should have one policy that applied to all Jamaicans leaving and entering the country whether by land or sea. In the case of the coronavirus, there would never be adequate State facilities to quarantine everyone. In the meantime, it would also be unrealistic to ask Jamaicans to wait indefinitely overseas until the virus went away completely.
“So a way has to be found to allow Jamaicans to come home. Those who have proper facilities can be allowed to quarantine at home under Government supervision,” he added.
Last week the Government announced new arrangements for the controlled re-entry of some Jamaicans abroad, inviting citizens to apply through a new online immigration portal on the jamcovid19. moh.gov.jmwebsite for authorisation to return home.
But Foreign Minister Johnson Smith made it clear at that while the protocols would be executed on a phased basis, priority would go to Jamaicans overseas who are most vulnerable and are facing the most hardship.