After almost six months of being stranded abroad, I was finally able to get a repatriation flight from Barbados to T&T. If I had thought the process of obtaining an exemption was disturbing, the trip home was even more alarming.

The entire trip flew in the face of social distancing guidelines. Passengers were seated shoulder-to-shoulder in economy seats, while all of the seats at the front of the plane in Caribbean Plus remained empty; upon arrival, passengers remaining in the tightly packed plane for over an hour, instead of being ushered out quickly to avoid further close contact; continuation of the shoulder-to-shoulder contact on an hours-long ride to the central processing location at The UWI campus, Debe; and upon the allocation of passengers to different locations, the assignment of some strangers to share rooms at one particular hotel!

Putting aside the unpleasantness of the entire experience (the unnecessary delays, the heat, the concern about the close contact, the lack of water, etc), how is a six-hour trip with absolutely no social distancing furthering our public health objectives?

Surely, any system put in place for the return of citizens or otherwise must incorporate social distancing as a baseline, along with guidelines that weed out certain low-risk individuals from the quarantine requirement in order to reduce the strain on resources and to further social distancing goals?

On September 5, the Ministry of National Security issued a news release with specific details as to how returning citizens would be processed. The release suggested that upon meeting certain other conditions, returning nationals with verified negative Covid-19 tests (within the previous 72 hours) could quarantine at home. However, this system is not yet in place.

Upon my arrival from a low-risk country with a valid negative Covid-19 test, resources were still directed to have me quarantine at a State facility. How many more cases will be spread while we wait for this and other protocols to be implemented?

The silver lining?—the professionalism and empathy of our airline and wairport employees (Caribbean Airlines employees, Immigration and Customs officers, baggage handlers, drivers, etc) and the hotel/facility and medical staff at the various quarantine locations. Their manner and willingness to go the extra mile are much appreciated.

Again, let’s do better, T&T. The pandemic is not going anywhere fast. Citizens stranded abroad must be brought home, and they must be brought home in a safe and efficient manner geared towards ensuring their health and safety, and the health and safety of all citizens in T&T.

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