A failure as a father.
This is how Bryan Whittier, a Trinidadian who has been stuck in Japan for the past eight months, says he feels every time he speaks to his children on the phone and cannot give them an answer as to when he will be home.
Whittier left Trinidad for Japan on January 26, where his plan was to purchase auto parts and equipment for the company he is employed with.
He was due to return in April but found himself stuck in Japan when T&T closed its borders on March 22, a measure implemented to prevent the importation of Covid-19.
After many failed attempts to contact the Ministry of National Security, Whittier says he is now at his wits’ end.
“I came to Japan on behalf of my company to select and purchase cars and parts as I have been doing for the past 20 years,” he told the Express. “I have a seven-year-old autistic son and a three-year-old-daughter, it’s the first time I’ve been away from them for so long. When your children are crying for their father and you can’t do anything, for some reason I feel I have failed as a father.”
Whittier said being away from his family, coupled with his current living arrangements, has taken a toll on his physical and mental health.
“The conditions in which I live now are very poor. Mentally, physically and emotionally it has taken a toll on me. And by far the worst thing is not knowing when I’m going home, nothing to look forward to only getting up and repeating the same thing over and over. I’m tired of being out here away from my family and everything I know and love.”
Waiting and praying for 6 months
Whittier’s wife, Amelia Whittier, told the Express the separation has been difficult on her too.
“He made this sacrifice to go to Japan to be able to better provide for our family as it is a specialised job that is not entrusted to everyone,” she said.
“He left behind a wife, our three-year-old daughter and our seven-year-old son who has special needs. It is always very tough for him to leave them but we conditioned our minds to adapt to three months of being apart for the sake of a better life for our family.”
She said her heart dropped when the closure of the borders was announced and she realised her husband would not be able to make it home in time.
“For the past six months since the borders have been closed, we have been waiting and praying. With each passing day it gets harder and harder. It is very painful for us as parents for him to video call our daughter and see her crying because she wants daddy home.
“It is heartbreaking to try to explain to my son that daddy cannot take a plane to see him. As a wife and mother, it is overwhelming with the responsibility of taking care of my young daughter and my special-needs son as I cannot rely on anyone else during this time.”
Whittier’s employer is willing to pay for his flight and for any quarantine arrangements upon his return, she said, but they have received no response from the Ministry of National Security on their requests for an exemption.
Others stranded in Japan
Additionally, Whittier told the Express he is not the only T&T national in Japan seeking to return.
“There are quite a few of us that want to return home to our family. We have been patient with the Government hoping that something will happen soon but we’re still waiting.
“We can pay our way to reach home, all we’re asking for is to be remembered. No one is talking about people stuck in Japan, maybe it’s because we’re not making any noise and just trying to wait it out, but our patience has run out, our money is running low and all in all we just want to come home.”
To date, Japan has had more than 77,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and close to 1,500 deaths from the virus.
It was one of the countries deemed to be high-risk when Government announced a travel restriction in February.
The restriction stated people travelling from several countries including China, South Korea, Italy, Japan, Iran and Singapore would not be allowed into T&T within 14 days of their departure.
Earlier this month National Security Minister Stuart Young announced a new “liberalised” exemption policy, separating countries into two categories-low-risk and medium- to high-risk.
The new policy would require nationals returning from low-risk countries to produce a negative Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival and they must sign a form agreeing to quarantine at home for 14 days, he said.
Nationals returning from medium- or high-risk countries, he added, would be State quarantined for seven days upon their arrival and tested.
Once they test negative they will be allowed to quarantine at home for a further seven days.