The majority of Immigration officers who tested positive for Covid-19 attended a Valentine’s Day event and another social gathering.
Immigration officers were seen socialising at the office and at a bar wearing no masks and not observing social distancing requirements.
Photographs were posted on Facebook showing the officers at a celebration marking Valentine’s Day at the office.
A total of 13 immigration officers have tested positive for the virus. Sources said three of them were at the “Valentine” function, while seven on the shift attended the gathering at the bar.
Apart from the photos, statements made on Facebook by Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews seemed to suggest that the social gatherings could have been a potential source of the infection. Gandhi-Andrews on a post five days ago stated: “I was too late for the shift party in the bar and the Valentine’s party, but it is a good thing because I might have been in quarantine too.”
The Ministry of National Security in a release confirmed yesterday that “all the Covid-19 preventative measures were in place to ensure the continuity of services provided at the Immigration Division at Piarco.
The release said the Permanent Secretaries of the Ministry—Gary Joseph and Nataki Atiba-Dilchan—met with the Ag Chief Immigration Officer Derek Craigwell to discuss current immigration related issues. The meeting came after National Security Minister Stuart Young expressed concerns over recent developments surrounding the contracting of Covid-19 by certain immigration officers and the ensuing consequences. “The circumstances surrounding the immigration officers who have recently tested positive are being looked at. There is preliminary evidence that suggests that the contraction of Covid-19 may not have been directly associated with the official performance of duties by personnel,” the National Security release stated.
It said the continued provision of PPE to ensure the health and safety of immigration officers stationed at the airport was discussed as well as measures to maintain the continuous immigration services for both incoming and departing passengers. “The Ministry of National Security will continue to provide all necessary resources to ensure the well-being of its officers,” the release said.
It noted that the Airports Authority continued to sanitise all work spaces at the airport on a regular basis in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.
Young told the House last Friday that for the period January 4 to February 24, 2021, the following stock was sent to the Immigration Department:
—1,000 gloves, 210 surgical masks (the officers had previously been given three cloth masks each)
—140 bottles of sanitiser (250 mls) and 40 bottles of sanitiser (500 mls) and 20 spray cans of disinfectant.
In addition to this, Young said the Airports Authority sanitises the common areas of the airport.
Young stressed that since the closure of the borders, there is little passenger traffic at the airport.
Duke: Officers were not to blame
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke threatened to shut down the Immigration Division at Piarco, claiming workers were not being given enough personal protective equipment (PPE).
Duke said the officers were not to blame for the outbreak at the department. The same claim was made by some immigration officers in a report in yesterday’s Express who said all those who contracted Covid-19 had been processing arriving passengers and that they did not have adequate PPE.
The officers claimed that they were told that they didn’t need PPE and that the supplies of it were depleted.
Duke said 90 immigration officers at Piarco International Airport were provided with 180 bottles of hand sanitisers that were 250 ml in weight.
He said that between January 4 to February 24 , 2021, a total of 5,000 passengers came in and out of T&T. He added that they State provided gloves for officers but they were all large and were unable to fit the women workers.