In this Jamaica Observer file photo, visitors who arrived at the Sangster International on the market Airport in Montego Bay, St James, being processed by health officials earlier this month – Photo: Philp Lemonte

Jamaica Observer: MONTEGO BAY, St James — The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) has urged the Government to have all Jamaicans and tourists tested for the novel coronavirus before they enter the country.

Currently there are only random testing of symptomatic people, testing of business travellers, as well as pretesting for people travelling from New York, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.

“We want pretesting for everybody, whether Jamaicans or foreigners, using a combination of the PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test, and a rapid antigen test, or whichever is available. We are imploring the Government to do some research and come up with the best rapid antigen test on the market,” JHTA President Omar Robinson said Tuesday following a press conference. His position was supported by former JHTA President Wayne Cummings during the press conference.

“We at the JHTA believe that another crucial element to successfully operating our businesses during this time of COVID-19 is for a workable and robust testing regime to be implemented. The JHTA has always been cognisant and in agreement with the need to have a strong screening and testing strategy. We were one of the first voices to call for pretesting and/or mandatory testing of visitors,” Cummings stated.

He added: “We recognise the current challenges facing the Ministry of Health & Wellness and the inability to keep up with the mandatory testing at the airports and testing overall. The matter of testing and availability of tests for persons travelling to Jamaica is a complicated one. In many of our source markets access to obtain tests, in particular the PCR test, is difficult and may take up to seven days to get results.

“We continue to propose that the Ministry of Health and Wellness expands its pretesting requirement to include an additional option of a rapid antigen test, alongside the current PCR test. This will open up additional options for both returning Jamaicans and visitors. We will be able to screen out more persons who are positive, prior to them arriving in Jamaica.”

Additionally, the JHTA called for Government to forge a stronger partnership with “local laboratories and other medical practitioners to enable them to carry out testing in Jamaica”.

“This commercialisation strategy will significantly reduce the burden on the Ministry of Health and ensure that the cost of visitor testing is no longer borne by the State. It would also allow tourism businesses access to testing for its workforce for early identification of any potential infection,” Cummings stated.

He added: “We feel this is a necessary addition to our protocols that must be fast-tracked to provide additional risk mitigation measures for the citizens and visitors as we seek to continue to reopen the tourism industry and the country.”

The timely release of new travel protocols is another area of great concern by the former JHTA president, who argued that “the current two-week review is causing confusion in the travel trade”.

“By the time we circulate the changes, and the travel agents advise their clients, a new protocol is literally about to be issued. The JHTA is suggesting we look at expanding the window that the protocols are effective, even if it means maintaining a stricter protocol for a longer period,” Cummings said.

“This will allow us to communicate in advance, answer any question, and clarify any issues with our travel partners, so that they can effectively communicate to their clients. We are encouraging a more strategic approach that allows for potential visitors to plan their trips with a greater amount of certainty,” Cummings said.