Jamaicans return home in droves to beat airport closure

Ashley Bridgemohan changed gloves 20 times during her flight from Canada.

Planeloads of Jamaicans streamed into the island on Saturday (March 21) as they sought to beat the 11:59 pm deadline for the closure of the country’s borders as part of measures to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19).

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced on Friday that Jamaica would close its ports to passenger travel for 14 days as the health ministry announced a jump in coronavirus cases from 15 to 19.

The decision, which caught many Jamaicans abroad by surprise, saw hundreds of them rescheduling flights out of fear of being stuck outside the island. Many, who arrived at the Norman Manley International Airport, reported that they took a financial loss over the sudden change in their schedule.

Ven (at left) and Ms Green at the Norman Manley International Airport yesterday.

A woman, who gave her name only as Ms Green, said she was scheduled to return to Jamaica on Sunday but had to reschedule her flight after hearing the prime minister’s announcement on the news.

“Andrew should have given us a week’s notice,” said the woman who came in from North Carolina in the United States. She said she initially had trouble booking a flight into the island but noted that she didn’t intend to give up. “We are just glad to be home,” she added.

A woman—who gave her name as Ven and who also travelled from North Carolina where there is an outbreak of COVID-19—said she wept all night when she heard of the prime’s announcement.

Ven said she rushed to the airport on Saturday in an effort to catch a flight. She said she encountered some difficulties at first but said she was prepared to strip naked at the airport to protest had she been unsuccessful in getting a flight home. She was originally scheduled to travel to the island on Sunday.

After getting a seat on Spirit Airline, her next worry was the coronavirus. However, she said her fears subsided, although she was seen religiously sterilizing her hands and luggage at the arrival section of the airport.

But she was unable to secure a drive home to Santa Cruz, in St Elizabeth. She chartered a vehicle to downtown Kingston with the intention of taking a bus to St Elizabeth.

Samuel Cole—who is studying business in Ontario, Canada—wasn’t due to come home until Monday (March 23) but he too had to frantically reschedule. Cole said that he was fearful of picking up the coronavirus during the flight. “But I had on my mask and gloves,” he said.

Twenty-four-year-old physical therapist Ashley Bridgemohan stood out among travellers with her facemask and oversized goggles that covered her white-framed glasses. “I’m wearing the goggles because it can get into your eyes,” she said, referring to the virus. 

Ashley said she changed gloves 20 times during her flight from Canada where she’d been working for six months. “Because I’m in the field I know how germs operate,” she said. Asked why she left Canada, where there’s a superb health system to come to Jamaica, she said, “I miss my family.”

The message of social distancing was apparently lost on some who could be seen embracing the persons who greeted them at the airport.