Scores of Jamaicans who are on an overseas work programme were forced to leave behind the goods and appliances they were stockpiling to take back home as they were informed at very short notice that they had just hours to leave the United States if they wanted to get home for Saturday’s midnight closure of all borders to incoming passengers.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness said last Friday that the Government would disallow travellers from landing here after 11:59 p.m. on Saturday in an attempt to curb imported cases of COVID-19. Up to last Friday, 14 of the 19 infections were tracked to inbound travellers. One man has died.
Late Saturday night, he announced exemptions that would have a March 24 deadline.
“We were told to start making preparations to leave next Wednesday, but on Friday night, approximately 9 p.m., we were told that unless we wanted to be trapped in the US until at least May 4, we would have to be ready to leave for the airport by 6 a.m.,” said Dennis Grey, a Montego Bay resident who arrived at Sangster International Airport on a flight from Florida shortly after 2 p.m. on Saturday.
“It was almost a panic situation when we got the news,” said Grey, who was one of 104 Jamaicans who worked at the same Florida hotel who returned home on Saturday.
“There was not enough time to pack barrels and call in the shipping company to ship out foodstuff, clothing, and electronic items that would normally be shipped home … . Many items had to be just left behind and count as a loss.”
According to Grey, last Friday was payday for the workers on the programme, and many had done extensive shopping in preparation to return home next week – their original plan.
“Many persons went shopping for things for their families and friends … . Items like food, electronics, and clothing,” said Grey. “Many of the things had to be left behind because there was not enough time to arrange to have them shipped out.”