The dramatic rescue of 32 Venezuelan nationals from a sinking pirogue by Coast Guard officers triggered a COVID-19 scare at the Cedros Security Complex yesterday after some of the Venezuelans appeared to be sick.
For about 10 hours, the complex remained in lockdown and officers were advised not to leave or return to their homes.
By 2.30 pm, however, the lockdown was lifted. But law enforcement officers continued to express fear for their health and safety afterwards.
A total of 27 officers from the complex, comprising of Coast Guard, Customs, Immigration and police officers, were expected to be tested but by late evening none of them was given any tests.
A source said around 1 am, five officers on board a Coast Guard interceptor spotted a pirogue in territorial waters off Icacos. The occupants appeared to be in danger as the boat was sinking.
The officers managed to rescue a total of 32 Venezuelans, including women and children, who were taken to the Coast Guard’s Chaguaramas base. The Cedros officers then returned to Cedros and interacted with over two dozen officers from different arms of law enforcement and several MTS cleaners.
News later spread that the rescued Venezuelans were suffering from flu-like symptoms and an instruction was given for officers to remain in lockdown. But around 2.30 pm, a source said they were advised that the lockdown was lifted and they could go about their business as usual.
“This is very suspicious. They are saying they tested the Venezuelans and they tested negative so they raised the lockdown on us. We have been told that it takes 24 hours for results to come in so how could they say that all the Venez test negative for COVID-19?” a source added.
Another source said, “What if within the next seven days another test is done on the Venezuelans and they get positives? What about us who already interacted with so many people? In my opinion, the quarantine should have been for 14 days?”
Guardian Media contacted Public Affairs Officer at the T&T Coast Guard, Lieutenant Khadija Lamy, for a response but she said she would call back after investigating.
Guardian Media also issued a question about the testing of the Venezuelans and the law enforcement officers during the Ministry of Health press briefing on Wednesday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram confirmed the incident.
He said, “What I know is that there was an interception of 32 Venezuelan nationals, that is really a matter for the Ministry of National Security. The health component of it is really to do an assessment of those individuals to make sure they have no acute illnesses while they are being held in Trinidad.”
He added, “The officers have been in contact and if someone was deemed to have flu-like illness in that group with mere exposure without proper PPE, they will have to be quarantined, whether it is by the Defence Force or within one of our facilities over the next few days.”
He said this would be decided later on.
Contacted for comment on the issue, Minister of National Security Stuart Young said it was reported that the TTCG intercepted a vessel at sea early Wednesday and approximately 32 Venezuelans were detained.
“In keeping with current health protocols, the individuals involved were screened by public health officials. This includes both the Venezuelans as well as some of the TTCG crew involved,” he said.
He noted that the public health screening and assessments confirmed none of the Venezuelans had COVID-19 symptoms.
“These Venezuelans will be returned to Venezuela and those arrangements are being made. Some of the TTCG crew involved will also be quarantined as a precaution and in keeping with previously approved protocols,” he added.
Young expressed thanks to the TTDF, “in particular those in the Coast Guard for continuing to work to secure our borders.”