By FARRAH JOHNSON
A BAHAMIAN student studying at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica has been ordered to self-isolate after returning to the country on a government issued flight.
Britney Nairn told The Tribune yesterday she was among the 61 Bahamian students who returned home on the plane the government chartered to Jamaica, hours before the country closed its borders.
“I’m a medical student at UWI and the hospital on campus (University Hospital of the West Indies) had one case of the virus at first and then the next day it went to two,” she said.
“After that, I woke up to a notice saying that schools were being closed down in Jamaica and my campus was a red zone.
“They said it jumped from two cases to eight cases overnight and because of that, they didn’t want any of the students being at risk. So they told all of the students who live on campus to go home and they decided to close school until April 14.”
Ms Nairn said the Bahamian consulate in Jamaica sent a message stating that the government would provide a way for Bahamian students to come back home “on the agreement” that they would be able to buy their own airline tickets to return.
“They said you should only come if you’re able to pay your way back, because the government is not responsible for paying our way back to Jamaica,” she said. “We were supposed to leave the airport at 4pm on Saturday because at the time Jamaica was getting ready to close off their borders, but Bahamians were coming at the last minute so instead of leaving as scheduled, we ended leaving at 6.30.”
Ms Nairn said when they arrived in Nassau, the students went through an immigration checkpoint and had their passports stamped.
She also said they were asked if they had recently travelled to countries with high percentages of COVID-19 like China and Italy and if they had been in contact with anybody who was infected with the virus.
“When they asked me I told them no,” she said. “And then I went off to get screened by the nurse that they had there. She took our temperatures and everybody was fine and then she asked us one-by-one if we had any of the symptoms of the virus like a fever or cough.
“Initially she came out because the prime minister had said if we come from any of these places you would get quarantined or self-isolated. So she was telling us that we may have to get quarantined, but she came back out because all of us had normal temperatures and were fine. So she just told us to self-isolate for two weeks and make sure to just drink a lot of Vitamin C.”
Ms Nairn said she did not expect the pandemic to spread so quickly and incite national panic.
“At first, because I wasn’t sure whether I would stay in Jamaica or come home, I decided to go to the food store. And when I went there, I couldn’t believe my eyes because people were shopping as if it was the end of the world.
“Some persons had like two carts and I couldn’t find hand soap or Lysol and even though they had a two per person limitation, the shelves were still empty. That’s when I decided to come home because I was afraid to be stuck over there in the event that Jamaica would be in a lockdown and I wouldn’t be able to be with my family.”
Ms Nairn added she has friends from other Caribbean nations who suffered the same fate she managed to avoid.
“I had friends who got stuck in Jamaica because they were planning on travelling on Sunday, but the airport closed the day before.
“Some of my friends from Trinidad & Tobago are still in Jamaica too, because Trinidad closed off its borders after a cruise ship came in with 49 cases. Those persons that came off the cruise ship were immediately quarantined, but because of all of that, they decided to close their borders.”
Ms Nairn, who is studying nursing and surgery at UWI, said while she is glad she was able to return home safe, she is still worried about how the pandemic will affect her studies in the long run.
“For me, being a third year student two weeks away from exams, this has pushed us back a month and we don’t even know what’s going to happen,” she said.
“Online classes work for the other students, but in third year we’re on clinical rotation so we
have to be in the hospitals. Plus, some of our exams require us to examine patients for our final grade, so I don’t know how they’re going to work that out with us.”
Still, Ms Nairn said she realises that countries all over the world are dealing with the coronavirus crisis, so the only thing she can do is wait it out and follow the instructions given to her by medical experts and health officials.
“At first I was a bit anxious, but now I’m calm because I’m more educated about the virus itself and I know to just take the necessary precautions,” she said.
Earlier this week, Education Minister Jeff Lloyd revealed the government chartered a Bahamasair flight to Jamaica at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000, to bring Bahamian students home before the country closed its borders.
At the time, Mr Lloyd said the government chose to intervene after receiving requests from “frantic” parents who did not want their children to be stranded in a foreign country.
However, he made it clear that the students would have to reimburse the government for the flight.