Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says the government should use some of its COVID-relief funds to help pay for the mandatory quarantine it has imposed on nationals returning from the United States.
“The COVID relief money that the government has, … you have to look at it as situations develop to see how it can be used to assist persons to defray the cost … because of the hardship that they are encountering,” Friday said on his New Democratic Party (NDP) radio programme on NICE Radio on Monday.
He said that the jobs of some nationals overseas were terminated because COVID-19 and they have had to return to SVG.
For others, Friday said, they have had to stay in the United States for a long time because of the suspension of flights and are just able to return home, “having used up whatever savings they had”.
“It’s a problem for them,” he said of the quarantine bill, which, on average, is in excess of EC$1,000 for the five nights.
“So there must be some means of defraying or subsidising that cost to those persons who are of limited means. And that’s the whole basis of COVID [funding] — those people are feeling the pain and something should be put there to assist them.”
In April, Parliament approved an EC$67 million fiscal package in response to COVID.
This is in addition to US$16 million (EC$43 million) from the International Monetary Fund for emergency financing assistance to help address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Bank, on April 17, activated US$4.5 million (EC$12 million) to provide immediate funding for SVG’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds are aimed at strengthening the capacity of the health system.
The government has said that persons arriving in SVG from the United States have to spend five days in mandatory quarantine, at their expense, at a hotel approved by the government.
The decision came as there was an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases associated with American Airlines flights on July 11 and 18, which contributed to SVG recording more cases in two weeks that it had in four months.
The number of confirmed cases in the country so far is 52, with 39 persons recovered and no deaths.
But some returning nationals have complained about the cost of in-hotel quarantine, saying that they are being punished for persons who broke their quarantine without consequence.
Some returning Vincentians say that they are being forced to spend money that they do not have to stay at a hotel even though they have suitable homes, in some instances, where they live alone, and are willing to abide by the quarantine stipulations.
However, the government says that the measures are needed to protect the public as some persons have tested negative for COVID-19 on arrival in SVG, but developed symptoms and went on to test positive just a few days later.
Friday said that he has been saying all along that as the circumstances change, SVG has to be “adaptable and creative and find ways to assist people who are affected because we don’t know exactly how everybody’s going to be affected at any given time; it will change over time.
“So we have to be flexible and adjust the assistance mechanisms, income support mechanisms, to make sure that those persons who are really feeling the pain that they are, they’re assisted, and I don’t see that there’s that being evidenced here in the particular arrangements that are made, as necessary as they are,” he said.
The opposition leader said that people have called him about the quarantine protocols.
He said that the government “created a problem for the enforcement of the quarantine because it wasn’t properly done.
“The strict guidelines were not put in place in the sense of telling people what they are supposed to do. There is still some of that happening. There is a certain laxness about it that is really quite worrying.”
He said persons raised with him their concern about the high cost of the accommodations that are required and the five days, instead of one, initially, that had been mandated for quarantine.
“And that can become very burdensome on people who are not of means. And the cost, as I understand it, they were talking about US$150 or something per night. That works out to be quite expensive — EC$400; that’s for persons who have to sit there for five nights it’s over $2,000 and so it’s very onerous, especially for persons who are of limited means…”
He said that oilrig employees – who are among the returning nationals — working had not had a chance to work because of the pandemic.
“And because of that as well, they were stuck out there and couldn’t come back. So they basically used up whatever they had earned. And so, it would be very difficult for them to meet that and I think that the circumstances require that the government look at it to see how they can assist persons to defray the cost, especially when it comes to people who are returning nationals who had been in special circumstances where they could not basically meet the requirements because of the lack of work because of COVID-19…” the opposition leader said.