Letters & Opinion

A Flawed Process

By Andrea Francis

In its attempt to alleviate the spread of COVID-19, the government of St Lucia introduced a process that discriminates entirely against its nationals and residents. I do not make this statement lightly or indeed wish to sensationalize this issue but to highlight a system that is terribly flawed in which nationals are essentially relegated to second class citizen.

On “January 18th 2021 the government introduced a procedure stating that all returning nationals who have requested and are approved for home quarantine will be required to wear a BioIntelliSense BioButton for the duration of the 14 days of quarantine at a cost of US$100 each and an Amber Wristwatch at US$75”.

Let me contextualize this process for those who are unfamiliar; for nationals who live abroad or nationals who maybe visiting home for whatever reason, there is a process to follow. It is a long-convoluted process that involves several emails between the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority (SLTA) and the SARS CoV-19 team. The process is tedious and long-winded. The period of waiting after filling in online forms to the SLTA, awaiting results for negative PCR tests, to receiving approval for home quarantine, is in itself extremely stressful.

You are expected to have all this paperwork to hand in as evidence before being allowed to board the aircraft. The process, I believe, could be improved. It is not necessary to have these documents printed. Producing evidence of emails received from the relevant authorities could simplify things. In this way it would ease the need for hard copies of the emails as printers are not easy to access for some of us.  Streamlining this process would alleviate the level of aggravation for nationals wishing to return home. In addition, one also has to produce letters of authorization for home quarantine which arrives, in some cases, mere hours before one is due to travel, and evidence of payment for this BioIntelliSense BioButton and also sufficient funds to purchase the Amber wristwatch upon your arrival back home.

Upon landing in St. Lucia, you are directed to an unsightly tent, where temperature checks, hand sanitizing and social distancing are expected among passengers. I applaud this. The tent itself is hideous, the floor is uneven, with holes on the side to the entrance and is unwelcoming. The layout of the tent itself is almost claustrophobic and looks like it has seen better days. This is certainly not a good impression for nationals coming home or indeed a good impression for visitors. If the government aims to create a good impression with guests then such an impression would fail.

I observed tourists being processed extremely quickly whilst nationals were being treated like second-class citizens. This was not palatable. As someone who lived and worked in the UK for a long time and who has faced discrimination almost daily this disdain was mindboggling, to say the least. We were being discriminated against in our Island by our own people. Tourists were being processed very quickly. I observed a number of these visitors being put through the process a lot quicker than some others because they were being escorted by a representative on the ground. If this is not blatant discrimination then I don’t know what is.

Then came the process of waiting to get this wretched button fitted. This process at best was extremely slow and at worst shambolic.  In the tent there was a sort of waiting room set up with a number of chairs for sitting however, no social distancing was being observed and the queue became longer as more and more people were processed. Before being invited to take a seat in the waiting area for the fitting of the button, you were required to purchase the Amber wristwatch. Yet again, this entailed taking another long queue with just one person processing and taking payment for the said watch. At this time, I would like to make it clear that whilst I don’t necessarily agree with the Biobutton, I vehemently disagree with purchasing the Amber watch which then had to be returned after my imprisonment at home.  In my opinion this is a violation of my Human Rights as I am not a prisoner who needs my whereabouts monitored.

I have never committed any crime or have been found guilty of any criminality.  I am a law-abiding citizen and I follow the rules of the land.  I am very much aware that there have been incidents where people don’t adhere to the rules however, as this doesn’t relate to me, I should not be punished for other people’s wrongdoings.  Nonetheless, after waiting in the queue for an hour to purchase this wretched watch I was informed by the lady taking payments that the watches were all sold out.  This is absurd and the height of incompetence by a team of people who appeared not to work with each other. There were a number of employees who appeared to be standing around rather than moving this process along quickly. This was a complete and utter farce, diabolic to say the least. I would like to mention at this juncture, when I looked around, it was only nationals left in this hideous tent.

I was now then redirected to the other queue for the fitting of the Biobutton. This process was even more farcical. I have now landed for over an hour and forty minutes. I am yet to leave this miserable tent and go through immigration or customs. There are no tourists in the tent, only locals. We are all now waiting for one person to fit this Biobutton on our chests. When I made enquiries as to how much longer I was informed that only one person was trained to fit the button. This is not good enough and whilst I am sympathetic with the authorities as this is new territory and one should expect a few teething issues, nonetheless, this shows them up at best as lacking initiative.   Two hours after landing in St. Lucia I was finally able to go through to immigration and customs.

I would like to sum up by saying, the Ministry of Health and Wellness should have more than one person trained in fitting these Biobuttons. If there is an expectation to purchase these watches ensure that there are sufficient stock on hand and more than one collection and pay point. I would argue that the whole process needs to be reviewed as it is flawed, long and at times tedious and absurd.

Some employees appear reluctant in assisting in areas they weren’t trained in. Surely, it is not rocket science to fit the Biobutton and the package the button comes in gives very clear instructions for fitting. You don’t need a degree to do so. They were just standing around instead of working as a team to speed the process up.

I respectfully ask that the government takes a closer look at the manner in which it treats its people. I would argue further, that the Biobutton can and should be fitted to everyone arriving into St Lucia and not just nationals. It monitors signs for COVID-19 and as such everyone should be required to wear this button. Whilst, it can be debated that tourists are in St Lucia for less than 14 days and perhaps it doesn’t look good on their holidays’ snaps, not sexy enough, the monitoring aspect is worthwhile. Thus, I would advocate that anyone entering St. Lucia should be required to wear the Biobutton for the duration of their stay whether visitors or nationals. This should be mandatory.

Whilst I disagree with the purchase of the Amber wristwatch, I can understand the rationale for making it a requirement for home quarantine. However, I don’t agree with recipients having to return it to the authorities. After all the purchase of these watches were at their expense and in my opinion this practice is ludicrous. I suggest that the government reassesses its policy regarding returning nationals and tourists entering St Lucia. The whole process should be more streamlined, less cumbersome for people wanting to return home.  It is clearly evident that tourists to the Island are given preferential treatment with very little regard to nationals. Fundamentally, this is wrong.  I suggest that the Government scrutinizes its posture and position towards its citizens and not discriminate against its people.

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