Trinidad and Tobago’s borders are to remain closed in the short term but the process of obtaining an exemption for stranded nationals to get home, may soon be eliminated.
This according to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who addressed the nation via a press conference from Tobago on Saturday.
The Prime Minister announced the development of a new system, referred to as “tagging,” in which nationals who were required to apply for exemptions through the Ministry of National Security to gain entry, would instead be allowed to fly home without this prerequisite.
These persons he said, would be allowed to quarantine at home based on protocols implemented through the liberalized policy which separated incoming nationals based on high to low-risk countries. Through this measure, he said, the Chief Medical Officer can determine where each national should be quarantined.
To achieve this, a committee composed of the Minister of National Security, Minister of Health and the Attorney General is to be established. Additionally, he said, he was earlier informed that the Country possesses the capability to pursue this system. Confirmation on the “Tagging,” initiative, which he called a, “Cautious reopening of the border,” should be given on November second.
“I am putting together a small committee of the Minister of National Security, the Minister of health and the Attorney General tomorrow. That committee’s work is to try to get us to remove exemptions system and to allow persons to come home as flights are available The reason why I am able to think and go down that route is because I am now satisfied that we can monitor persons coming in by using an identification of persons who can home and quarantine at home, The quarantine system will still be requires and depending nowhere persons come from, whether it's from the low risk, the medium risk or the high risk the CMO can determine what kind of quarantine may be required.”
“The technology now is available to allow us to have people monitored at home and their vitals monitored by the health department to see whether in fact they are symptomatic of the virus so it is reasonable to bring people home especially f the protocol is that they come in after a certain aspect of tests and they go home. If they require state quarantine for any reason, then that can be managed. I am satisfied that this committee can report within a week and the tagging system will be available and it will allow us to maximize home quarantine and maximize the inflow of persons who are outside. That will then result in an elimination of this exemption system. I say this is a cautious reopening of our border,” he said.
Referencing numbers presented by Chief medical officer Roshan Parasram, Dr Rowley said that the Government continues to keep an eye on the percentage of repatriated nationals who tested positive for COVID-19 upon return. Currently accounting for 10 per cent of recent infections, he said this number should be a concern when compared to the wider population.
“A few thousand people come home and we are now being told that they are accounting for 10 per cent of cases. In relation to the population, that small number of repatriated accounting for 10 per cent should give you a clear picture as to what would have happened had we not managed that inflow.”
“I want to alert you that we have accelerated our exemptions and the thought process that I am looking at now is to keep my eye on the capacity of the health system to react with people who require hospitalization and that 10 per cent coming from repatriated people we keep our eyes on that because the level of infection in some of these areas from where these people come has been for quite some time and will continue to be so given what we know,” he said.
He added that the current repatriation system has been working well thus far, with the process having been sped up.
“We have had a system in place to bring our own people home and that has been working and fairly well. Last week I was being told by the Minister of National Security, there was one flight out of Barbados where we put together 100 persons to come home and by the time the flight was ready, they all changed their minds and it was only 38 people. So, while you hear some people talking about this and that and the other, in trying to manage the situation, those are some of the things that you get. We took it in stride,” he said.
Talks with Caricom nationals to establish travel between certain islands, depending on their caseloads, were initiated according to Dr Rowley. Islands such as Grenada, Guyana and Barbados were under consideration for monitored travel, he said.
“We are in deep discussions with some of our Caricom colleagues. I spoke with the President of Guyana, three weeks ago at length and we believe that we can begin to have more movement between our citizens and the Guyanese population, the Grenada population, the Barbados population,” said Dr Rowley.
Also speaking at the conference, Minister of National Security Stuart Young indicated that flights for repatriating nationals are continuing on a scheduled basis. He said flights from Miami and New York have been planned weekly. In situations where nationals are stranded in other areas such as India have been granted exemptions.
“Every week we have two flights one from Miami and one from New York We also on a weekly basis have a flight from Barbados coming in and what we are looking at, in between there we have out on other Caribbean Airlines flights to other jurisdictions and the process fortunately has been speeding up. I would like to thank the Ministry of Health for assisting us there,” he said.
According to Young 5905 entrance exemptions have been granted to date and 8,046 granted to leave. Between the dates of August 31 to October 22, 2,573 entrance exemptions were granted and 1,815 departing. In total 1,395 were granted to nationals in the United States, 258 to those in the UK and 177 in Canada.