The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is making it clear that public funds will not be used to pay for the 14-day quarantine of persons who test positive for COVID-19 on arrival in the country.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said Wednesday that his government would consider confiscating people’s passports until they make the payment.
Beginning this month, all persons arriving in SVG must present a negative result for a PCR test taken within three days of arriving in the country or have a test done on arrival in the country.
All persons awaiting test results must self-isolate for 24 hours and those who test positive must remain in isolation for 14 days.
“And if you are going to a hotel, you have to pay for the hotel or if you are going to a guest house, you have to pay for it,” Gonsalves said on NBC Radio.
“I can’t have you come from overseas and expect that the government will pay, in other words, the taxpayers of the country will pay for you if you are positive, to stay 14 days, which is the isolation period,” he said.
He said that the COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult period for everyone.
“… and there are people in the country who are finding it difficult, some people to get food. So I can’t take the government money and pay US$100, US$150 a night [for a person’s quarantine],” Gonsalves said.
He noted that US$150 (EC$400) is more that the EC$300 which the National Insurance Service has paid in unemployment benefit, an innovation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, US$100 (EC$270) is more than the EC$200 that the government gave to 600 persons in social welfare assistance.
“… you must know when you are coming home or reasonably suspect whether you are likely to have had COVID… whether you are a national or a visitor, you have a duty of care to make certain that you don’t have the virus,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that the virus is not a death sentence and that he did not want to generate any hysteria.
“I am just saying that in the control mechanism, the management mechanisms, you have to know that you will be required to pay.”
Gonsalves said some persons might claim not to have any money.
“Well, we will hold your passport until you get the money. That’s one lever. I am not saying that we will necessarily do that. But if you want to be recalcitrant and very problematic, because I am determined for us to be safe and I am also determined not to spend money when you have left the country where you live all the time,” Gonsalves said.
He said that his government will welcome citizens to return to SVG, but noted that about 2% of persons arriving in Jamaica have tested positive for COVID-19.
Gonsalves said that if this holds true for SVG, it could be expected that three of the 150 persons on the American Airlines flight expected to arrive on Saturday could be COVID-19 positive.
“So I am asking you, organise your test up there because you will know whether you have been in situations where, more than likely, you were exposed to COVID-19. But if you come here, we will test you,” he said.