People wait their turn to be called for a PCR test for the COVID-19 outside a hospital in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Rishard Khan

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The growing number of COVID-19 infections in the United States is making it difficult for stranded nationals there to meet one of the requirements to return home.

Since the border closure on March 22, nationals wishing to return home have been subject to various requirements. From November 15, one of the prerequisites became a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test done no older than 72 hours from the time they enter the country along with their exemption.

However, the 5.7 million active cases in the US means that labs around the country are under strain to process results.

“It was impossible to get a PCR test in under 72 hours…they (labs) are telling you, you have to wait five to seven days maybe more to get back your PCR test,” Simyah Sawyer, 24 told Guardian Media. Both she and her sister returned to T&T from Philadelphia early Friday morning and are now quarantining at Paria Suites.

“I was able to get my PCR test, thank God because I have a friend that works in the lab. So I had to call her and beg and plead that my results be expedited because I was on the flight for the next day,” she said.

The delay in the test result was also why she was among almost 20 nationals who were barred from getting on a repatriation flight in November.

“I was granted my exemption on November 18 for a flight for November 18 so I had no choice but to do a rapid test,” she said.

“Approximately 15 to 20 nationals were turned back because they couldn’t obtain the PCR test or their PCR test was four hours expired and they couldn’t get on the flight. It was just overwhelming for everyone. Everyone was just- it didn’t make any sense to anyone.”

Former medical chief of staff of the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital, Dr Karen Sohan-Seenath, told Guardian Media that these tests have also become quite expensive.

“The big issue is the cost to get a PCR result in time, especially in the US. At CVS it’s $130 US and a result in 2-4 days; no guaranteed result in 3 days. Most have to be done privately at a cost of $225 US to get a result back on time. When you combine this with the inflated cost of a one-way ticket (3-4 times) normal, it is extremely distressing,” she said. Sohan-Seenath was also trapped out of the country earlier this year and publicly criticised the government on its policy for stranded nationals wishing to return home.

Due to the developing situation in the United States and her own experience, Sawyer suggests the policy on PCR tests be revisited and the time window for the tests be expanded to one week or to allow rapid tests.

The current period of Public Health Regulations comes to an end on Sunday, December 6 and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley would address the nation at 2.30 pm today on the way forward.