PHILIPSBURG–Given government’s precarious financial situation, residents who want to return to the country might have to cover the costs involved in staying in government’s quarantine facility for the mandatory period of fourteen days.
The facility is a hotel that authorities negotiated lower rates for, to be used to quarantine residents. Jacobs said government simply cannot sustain this cost. “The reality of the matter is that government is unable to afford it at the moment,” Jacobs said in explaining the reasons for the decision of deferring the cost to residents who want to return.
“Initial protocols included a two-week quarantining at a facility designated by government. This is the only way we can 100 per cent conclude that they cannot leave the (location) based on them voluntarily agreeing to this, but the cost of said quarantining is something that we cannot sustain. At the moment, we are looking into, as part of that voluntarily agreeing to being quarantined, that the persons will also be able to pay for the stay in this facility so that our population will be protected.”
Jacobs described the situation as similar to being hit with a double-edged sword. “We put in for a loan and if the loan isn’t granted in its totality, we will not be able to do all that we have planned to do… It’s like being hit with a double-edged sword,” Jacobs said, noting that if authorities fail to ensure that returning residents are properly quarantined, then the health of the population is being put at risk.
“It is a really difficult period and we are working diligently to finalise all the protocols and see how our policies can be adjusted in this new reality to be able to enforce the – at-the-moment –, voluntary quarantining agreements that CPS [Collective Prevention Services – Ed.] has with each and every person coming to the island.
“…We cannot live in this shutdown situation forever. People will have to agree to live under certain circumstances for a duration of time in order to keep the island safe. It is not discrimination, it’s a matter of when you return, you pose a public health risk if you develop symptoms, so we are hoping that people … realise the heavy responsibility upon you to keep St. Maarten safe.”
This entails remaining at home and indoors. Persons who have no one to care for them may contact CPS, which is making arrangements for persons who live alone to get necessities such as food. “We really have to get serious in ensuring that this country remains safe so that we can reopen this economy. So, I am asking everyone to cooperate in the interest of everyone else.”
When asked about rates to stay in the facility Jacobs said while she is not aware of the exact cost, authorities had looked at more than one facility and tried to find the best prices. “At least one facility that we had reserved was about US $70 per day. That’s when we were making arrangements with SZV [Social and Health Insurances]. That was the price and I believe you still have to make arrangements for food, etc.”
Ministry of Public Health representative Margje Troost said the quarantine facility is basically a hotel on the island that government tries to get a reduced price for, to use as a quarantine location.
In the meantime, all incoming flights to St. Maarten will be required to have landing permits from the prime minister. Jacobs had given approval for a group of 11 persons, the majority of whom were students in Canada, to return to the country over the weekend. However, the flight had to be cancelled as it would have had to transit through Barbados, which did not grant permission for such.
St. Maarten’s Foreign Affairs Department is busy compiling a list of St. Maarten residents abroad, who want to return to the country. Jacobs said the easiest way to reintroduce the virus to the country and create a second wave is via returning residents, which is why the process is being tackled in a careful manner. Students will be returning from many different destinations and until the borders have reopened and the travel ban to St. Maarten lifted, authorities will carefully go through the list of those who want to return. As long as there are charter flights coming to repatriate persons in the country, St. Maarten will try to facilitate the return of those who want to.
Troost underscored the importance of quarantining to stop the virus. She said even if someone feels healthy and is asked to quarantine based on his/her travel history or contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient, it is important to follow the guidelines and remain at home.
Jacobs and Troost made the comments in response to questions during an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) press conference on Saturday.