PHILIPSBURG–Due to the limited number of hotel room facilities to which government currently has access, it is only possible for a maximum of 35 students and residents to be returned to the country for now.
Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Ludmila de Weever said authorities have been actively working on the return of students over the last few days, because students and residents are trying to return home.
“The conditions previously mentioned about sourcing hotels for them to come back and be in quarantine is of major concern,” she said. “When we look and contact our sister islands, the repatriation of persons back to those islands resulted in positive [COVID-19 – Ed.] cases that were luckily tested in quarantine.” She said anyone returning between June 1 and June 30 will be required to remain in quarantine for 14 days.
De Weever had announced on Wednesday that July 1 is the earliest tentative date that St. Maarten can reopen its airport, depending on the country’s COVID-19 status at that time.
Since the country has been shut down the Department of Foreign Relations has been actively involved in trying to arrange the repatriation of persons from around the world, whether it is students or residents. There had been some urgency amongst some students in the United States and Canada related to their visa requirements, as well as the electronic system for travel authorisation (ESTA) for visitors.
De Weever said a KLM flight had been scheduled every Friday and St. Maarten now has the ability to allow students or residents who need to return home to be on this flight.
“The caveat here is that we are limited to the number of persons who can come home because we have 35 rooms in separate locations where they can quarantine,” she said during the live Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday. “It was the condition from the EOC [Emergency Operations Centre], and supported now by VSA [Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs] and everyone else, that they have to quarantine for 14 days.”
She said the discussion last week was that anyone under quarantine at one of the hotels will be required to cover the cost of their stay in the hotel. This is why it was “super important,” she said, for authorities to announce a general possible opening date of July 1, so that persons can opt to not return now and wait until the reopening of the airport to return and avoid this additional expense.
As the country is still in its reopening phase, there is still time to tweak if necessary if any situation changes. “That is why we are cautious and controlled in the next 27 days of June.” She noted that the procedures that had been established by the EOC will be continued.
She thanked the hotels that offered the 35 rooms to be used for quarantining persons as well as those that are in the process of deciding whether they too can offer rooms for quarantining. “We are currently limited to 35 persons and any repatriation flights from the US and Canada are also in the works.”