Education Minister Jeff Lloyd speaks in the House of Assembly.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
THE government chartered a plane to Jamaica on Saturday for Bahamian students studying in the region, demanding that the 61 pupils self-quarantine in their homes upon arrival, according to Education Minister Jeff Lloyd.
He said the cost of chartering the Bahamasair flight was $30,000 to $40,000. The students, he said, will have to reimburse the government for the flight.
He warned the government will review the policy of sending flights for students overseas, as officials did not want this to become something citizens expected.
“The largest cluster of Bahamians studying outside The Bahamas is in the Caribbean,” he said, “some over 300 people are studying in the University of the West Indies system alone, and not just UWI but North Caribbean University and some other colleges in the Caribbean. “A request was made of us when Trinidad announced the closure of their airport, UWI announced the closure of their university and Jamaica announced the closure of its borders Saturday night.”
Mr Lloyd said “frantic” parents made requests of the government.
“Many of the parents were frantic that their students would potentially be stranded, with no way of getting home and no prospect of how quickly they would get home because no one knows how quickly this virus is going to be,” he said.
“Initially it was thought that Caribbean Airlines which flies between Trinidad and Barbados comes to Jamaica and makes a stop in Nassau was closing down as a consequence of closure of various countries. I discovered that in fact Caribbean Air was still travelling between Trinidad and Jamaica and Barbados but the Jamaica to Nassau leg had been cancelled. I contacted the minister of tourism responsible for Bahamasair and said let’s find a way to get them home and let’s worry about them paying for it when they get home, which we intend to do.
“We told students in Barbados, get to Jamaica and students in Trinidad to get to Jamaica. A number of them decided they will come. UWI said it will close and not open until April 6 and their instruction after April would be online. When the announcement was made, students in Trinidad started to leave on Caribbean Air, a number of students in Barbados did as well. But for different reasons, a number of students don’t have US visas. They couldn’t go through the US. They were in a sense, stuck. We approached the prime minister who said we could get them but on one condition: those students coming home would have to self-quarantine.
“The flight left 3pm and returned at 5pm. The only reason we did this is because the largest cluster of Bahamian students outside of this country is in those three countries. We’re going to have to review this policy about going for Bahamain students wherever they happen to be. “Parents and students must realise once you leave this country, getting back here is your responsibility. However and why ever, that’s your responsibility. We are the only country in the Caribbean that does this for its citizens and we have to be very careful because students see this then they feel if you could do it for one, you could do it for the others.”