The Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government is seeking to increase the penalty for breaches of COVID-19 entry requirements, following reports of an increase in non-compliance to the PCR testing requirement, and false documents presented by incoming travellers upon arrival at the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) at Point Salines.
The Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday approved a motion to increase the fine from EC$550.00 to EC$2, 500.00 or US$1, 000.00, to deter non-compliance and fraud under the Quarantine COVID-19 Regulations 2021.
Health and Social Security Minister Nickolas Steele presented the motion, which proposes to amend Section (4), sub-section (3) of the Quarantine Act, which sets out the PCR testing requirements for entry into the country.
The minister told Parliament that the amendment will give legal teeth to having “a police officer (to be stationed) at the airport” to issue tickets to non-compliant individuals as the airport operations are not most suitable to handle this type of situation.”
“…If a person accepts that liability, guilt or culpability, then that person accepts the ticket, and pays the ticket like a speeding ticket (and) if a person does not because it is always necessary to allow recourse, then that person can as with a speeding ticket or other citation go through the court system,” he said.
However, the Leader of the Opposition, Tobias Clement, who welcomed the motion, which must also be approved by the Upper House of Senators before taking effect, voiced concern with how visitors who intend to spend a limited time in the country will be dealt with if they choose to challenge the ticket in court.
“How do you subject that visitor to the court system when you know the court system in Grenada really moves at a snail’s pace? Is there a particular court system that will be set up to deal with that particular issue if it so arises on a speedy basis? Clement inquired.
Responding to the concerns of the Opposition Leader, Leader of Government’s Business in the Lower House, Finance Minister Gregory Bowen, brushed aside the argument stating: “I don’t believe anybody who is caught would want to go to the court, and be proven that they did commit the offense (or) if you did not commit the offense.”
“There is always room to go to court but this would be one (1) in a few…” he added.
As part of COVID-19 measures, the Ministry of Health implemented travel applications to approve the entry of visitors, and returning nationals, who upon arrival at the airport are required to present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before travelling, an approved health declaration, and proof of their vaccination status to receive clearance.
Manager of the Ministry of Health’s Airport Operations, Charmaine Gibbs, who detailed some of the concerns during Monday morning’s Government Information Service (GIS) programme called ‘The Next Chapter’, said there have been instances where persons have provided misleading information or may have entered information incorrectly on the declaration, and some who have presented rapid antigen tests, which she noted, are only accepted if an incoming traveller previously tested positive for COVID-19.
“We do not accept rapid antigens. Only if you were previously tested positive…you come with a rapid antigen taken within 24 hours, a letter from a healthcare provider, and the positive results that you would have had within 90 days – so those three (3) documents. Only under those circumstances will we accept a rapid antigen,” she added.
Gibbs appealed to incoming passengers to ensure that their travel applications are filed correctly to avoid complications on landing at MBIA.
“Once a passenger arrives without the requirements there are consequences, and you will get fined. This is done at the airport. We have become very strict in recent times because I find that persons arrive and quite carelessly – they arrive in Grenada, and they think okay, well, whatever I arrive with they will accept.
“… It doesn’t quite happen like that. We have requirements and you know, we would really appreciate it if people can go onto the website and become familiar with our requirements. Falling short of that you get here, and you don’t have the requirements, you will get fined on arrival.”
Gibbs also used the opportunity to further emphasise the responsibility of individuals to ensure that they provide accurate information to subject matters which can be found on the Ministry of Health’s Facebook page and website.
“I just want to use this opportunity to remind persons that each destination has its requirements. So, the onus is on you, get onto the website, or get someone who can help, maybe a family member if you are not too versed on the Internet or so. Get all the necessary information…,” said the female Manager of the Ministry of Health Airport Operations.