Although the official numbers are not yet known, Vincentian students who are engaged in studies in Jamaica have been advised that they may be faced with quarantine fees if they fail to provide adequate options that satisfy the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves-led government’s seclusion standards; once they are repatriated to SVG.
2 letters sent recently to the Jamaican chapter of the Vincentian Students Association, an umbrella body that represents Vincentian student interests across the University of the West Indies campuses, by Honorary Consul June P. Barbour set out the conditions under which these Vincentians would be allowed to come home.
The first communique was dispatched on April 30 and included Barbour’s advice that “the government has made progress” in the negotiations with LIAT and the airline has expressed interest in taking Vincentian students who desire to return home, to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The newly minted diplomat also indicated, “in light of this, I desire a confirmation count of the list of persons, sent to me earlier, who still have an interest in leaving. This is needed for the airline to work out the cost per student for payment. The cost of the flight will be dependent on the number of students who will travel. This payment will be made by you, a family member or whoever is responsible for funding your return flight to the country.
“I have also attached a request from the Ministry of Health for information on each person’s health status which was circulated earlier. This information is a public health requirement for all persons arriving in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. If you have already completed it and returned to me, don’t repeat. I will be required to indicate to the airline, all those for whom I have this information for them to have access to the flight.”
Asbert News Network procured a copy of a document sources described as the referenced attachment in Barbour’s April 30, missive. Said document was converted into a Google form since, “the Executive Committee team dealing with the collection and collation of information relating to this situation, decided that this will be the collection format, to make the information collection process easier and the retrieval more accessible,” albeit without Honorary Consul Barbour’s prior knowledge – VINSA president Marcella Dublin told us in an exclusive interview. The requested information is listed in full as follows:
The Ministry of Health of St Vincent and the Grenadines Entry Requirements (Protocols) for returning students
The Ministry of Health in St. Vincent and the Grenadines requires the following information from each student before arrival in the country. These requirements are to ensure that the health and wellbeing of its citizens are protected from COVID19.
1. Full name 2. Date of birth 3. Contact number 4. Details of current health status
5. Details of any underlying medical conditions. These include persons with:
a.) Diabetes b.) Chronic lung disease c.) Liver disease d.) Hypertension e.) Chronic lung disease f.) Serious heart conditions g.) Moderate to severe asthma
h.) Severe obesity i.) Immuno compromised by cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplant or using any immune weakening medications
6. Any exposure to a COVID19 positive or suspected case 7. Any screening done, including tests
8. Proposed address to spend 14 – 21 days quarantine (Family, friend or government facility)
9. The name and contact number of person at the proposed address who can facilitate the inspection of the proposed quarantine site
10. If without an appropriate quarantine site and have to use government facility, outline you commitment to pay.
We tried to ascertain, from the VINSA president exactly how many students, if any, would be required to use the government’s quarantine services and at what costs. At first Dublin advised, “the information is still being collated; it has not yet been determined how many, if any will need to be quarantine at a government facility.”
Several days later, after the collated information was submitted to SVG’s Honorary Consul in Jamaica revealed, ANN again attempted to seek clarity, this time from H.C Barbour. We were rudely dismissed since Ms Barbour found “it very strange for you to be requesting information from me with a nom de plume crafted email address, without introducing or identifying yourself with a given name…. I do not respond to any nom de plume.”
We then returned to the VINSA president in hopes that the lapsed time would have allowed for the necessary analysis of the information that was “still being collated” at our last check. We also sought to clarify exactly how many of the 71 students who previously expressed their desire to be repatriated would be able to afford the airfare as announced in the second letter which was sent in an April 5 letter from the Honorary Consul. Dublin again told us, “I do not know I don’t have access to that information as is the case with the numbers that may be able to afford.”
Subsequent attempts to follow up with local Health Ministry officials by email, particularly regarding the anticipated number of students to be quarantined once landed here, are yet to bear fruit.
On May 1, 2020 the Health Ministry published a statement via its SVG Health Facebook page which claimed in part, “the Health Services SubCommitee of the National Emergency Committee is responsible for screening of all persons returning to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Subcommittee is not associated with a Google Form titled “The Ministry of Health of St Vincent and the Grenadines Entry Requirements (Protocols) for returning students” currently circulating on social media platforms. The general public is advised against submitting information to this form.”
Hence, the impact of that denouncement from the Ministry, on the data collection process was also of interest to us. In answer to our query, Dublin explained, “well, [the Google form] was converted and sent to Ms. Barbour already so persons who didn’t get to fill it out will be asked to give info directly to her. …. This information is not accessible to everyone. The students only have access to complete the form. The information is then forwarded to our Honorary Consul, who directs it to the CMO, Ministry of Health, SVG.”
We tested the form and found that while information is being submitted the respondents are indeed not privy to the responses.
Barbour’s blatant refusal to share the requested information with the Vincentian public means that several questions are currently answered. Amongst those: how many of the 71 students who expressed a desire to return home can actually afford the XCD3,619.31 plane ticket home – the price, only if all 56 available seats are filled; the progress of her negotiations with the UWI’s Bursary on behalf of finalizing students that may be eligible for return tickets and whether or not there would be any negotiations with airlines to refund students who have already paid for return tickets preCOVID.
VINSA president Marcella Dublin was able to update us on that last bit. “I was told by a CAL [Caribbean Airlines] representative that the flight/s have to be cancelled before refunds are considered,” she said.
Dublin, a resident of Diamonds Village on the Windward side of mainland St. Vincent, also noted, “I am aware that there are several factors at play as we try to resolve the matter at hand. The earlier we get to SVG, the better it will be for us. We are all hoping that we will be back in SVG before May 15.
“ A number of students have indicated that their funds would not sustain them beyond the initial semester closing date of May 15, in case the circumstance arise which delay our return beyond May 15 we are in contact with Vincentian residents living here to assist students in need.”