(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Chief executive officer of MBJ Airports Limited, Shane Munroe, says the company, which operates the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, has implemented a raft of measures aimed at enhancing the safety of staff and travellers who will be utilising the port in just over a week.
Having declared the country’s borders closed to all incoming travellers on March 24 after an outbreak of COVID-19 locally, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, during a virtual press conference at Jamaica House on Sunday, announced that the island’s borders will reopen to international travellers on June 15.
Two days later, he told the Lower House that arriving passengers will undergo mandatory screening at the airports, where a determination will be made as to whether they should be tested for the new coronavirus.
Munroe told the Jamaica Observer earlier this week that MBJ Airports Limited has been proactive, and has already established a number of protocols at the airport in collaboration with several government agencies, including the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency and the Jamaica Customs Agency, ahead of the scheduled reopening date.
Additionally, he said, the health ministry has an office at the airport, staffed with personnel who will be responsible for the screening of inbound passengers.
Public health inspectors are also stationed at the port to ensure that “certain guidelines” are met, Munroe told the Observer.
Other measures include the mandatory wearing of masks, the observance of physical distancing, the installation of plexiglass screens at the ticketing counters that will form a barrier between staff and people checking in, the implementation of measures to minimise congestions, and the putting in place of a number of personnel to ensure travellers adhere to the guidelines in the departure and arrival areas.
“There will also be increased cleaning and sanitisation of restrooms and high-touch areas, and the installation of automated hand sanitisers,” said Munroe, adding that arriving passengers will have their temperature checked.
As it relates to staff, Munroe stressed that workplace protocols, which he described as “industry best practices”, have been implemented.
This, he said, will include temperature checks, wearing of masks, hand washing, and sanitising.
“Protocols are also in place as to how to handle staff and travelling public who may display symptoms. In addition, an isolation area for the travelling public that may display symptoms have been implemented at the airport, and more than one [isolation area] for airport workers, including ground handlers, airlines, concessioners, redcap porters, and tourism transport operators,” he explained.
Additionally, the number of people in the check-in area will be restricted. Hence, only staff and individuals who are travelling will be allowed in that space.
Munroe said that MBJ has, for some time, been preparing for the reopening of the airport.
“We always accepted that there will be a new normal and no one could precisely say when this situation will resolve itself completely, so we were always getting prepared for the fact that there may be, and you have to assume that there are, positive cases that will travel through the airport.
“The key thing here is the measures that you put in place to protect the staff and to protect the traveller,” he stressed.
Some travel experts have suggested that travellers could face lengthy wait in large airports across the United States as a result of safety measures implemented to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, according to Munroe, who has more than 15 years experience in the aviation industry, the measures implemented at Sangster International Airport — which is the largest in the English-speaking Caribbean and fourth busiest in the region — are not expected to slow the movement of travellers. He said, too, that the previous recommendation for departing international passengers to check in three hours before their flight, will remain.
“We are trying to make this thing as seamless as possible. And so, the processes that we have implemented are not there to slow the process down, it is just that additional health protocols are being implemented. So we still would recommend that passengers arrive at least three hours before departure,” he said.
Prior to the pandemic, more than 5,000 people were employed in various capacities at the Sangster International Airport, which is capable of handling up to five million passengers annually.
MBJ took over the operations of the airport in 2003, which has been selected at the World Travel Awards for 12 consecutive years, since 2008, as the Caribbean’s leading airport.