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COVID passports off to flying start for US travellers

Published:Wednesday | January 27, 2021 | 4:22 AMJonielle Daley/Staff Reporter
Davia Keise is seen at the Norman Manley International Airport on Tuesday. She was cleared with her COVID-19 passport for her return to the United States.
Davia Keise is seen at the Norman Manley International Airport on Tuesday. She was cleared with her COVID-19 passport for her return to the United States.

Travellers to the United States (US) had a generally smooth induction into the new regime of so-called coronavirus passports, with at least two prospective passengers being turned back at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) early Tuesday morning.

The new COVID-19 requirements were ordered in the final days of the Trump administration in response to a surge in infections over the winter, with more than 25 million cases and 423,000 deaths in the US.

Travellers to the US must present a negative COVID result from a test administered within three days of flying. The order took effect on January 26.

There were mixed emotions at NMIA on Tuesday morning as flights departed, leaving some travellers forlorn.

One woman who requested anonymity waited furiously outside of the NMIA for her driver to take her back home.

The traveller, who was booked to return to Atlanta, Georgia, is a health worker who said she regularly undergoes coronavirus testing but had been unaware that the requirement took effect on January 26.

She had flown to Jamaica nine days ago.

“This is a real inconvenience for people. They should send out the information in a timely manner, not wait until I get to the airport to tell me this,” she said, lamenting that she would have to wait another three to four days to return to her children.

Some persons attested to the process being easier than expected but expensive.

Davia Keise said that the process of vetting coronavirus results was smooth but lamented that many visitors struggled to locate approved testing sites. She also noted that some travellers had been unaware that antigen tests were also being accepted on entry to the US from Jamaica.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are the gold standard of coronavirus assessments but are more expensive and take longer to produce results than antigen tests.

Like a few others, Keise underwent her test at the Winchester Medical Centre in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew. She reported paying $8,000 for a 24-hour turnaround time compared to the $10,000 another traveller was charged for express antigen results within 15 minutes.

Keise said that although the new requirements were onerous, they would not sap her appetite for travel.

Karen Carter had her PCR test done at the University Hospital of the West Indies and received her results the following day to travel on Tuesday morning.

Others lamented having challenges finding a testing site “on a whim”.

“When I heard about it, I started looking, and I couldn’t find nowhere. I get so mad!” said another woman. “They need to work on it.”

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said on Monday that seven laboratories have been approved to carry out antigen testing and several others given the green light to conduct PCR tests. Some labs have multiple locations.

In addition to these sites, the UHWI also offers tests for a fee. Most of the labs are located in Kingston, Mandeville, and Montego Bay, Tufton reported.