National Security Minister Stuart Young is willing to grant an exemption to a group of T&T nationals, who were left stranded in Barbados after this country closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a Ministry of Health virtual press conference yesterday afternoon, Young said that they were free to return to Trinidad but had to arrange their own transportation.

Young said: “They can make their way here but the Government is not sending a plane for them.”

During the press conference, Young took the time to give a chronological account of the group’s plight and his discussions with Barbados authorities and the group’s attorneys St Augustine MP Prakash Ramadhar and Larry Larry over their possible repatriations.

Young explained that the group landed in Barbados after the travel ban for nationals and non-nationals took effect on March 23.

Young noted that while the T&T Government, through the Ministry of Health, sent COVID-19 test kits for the group, officials in Barbados still required that they serve 14 days mandatory quarantine before being tested.

Young said that after the period elapsed, he was informed that the testing could still take place but was being delayed by the fact that Barbados has a shortage of testing swabs, which are not included in the test kits.

Young said that after consultation with Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram and other State medical experts, last Friday, the decision was taken to allow the nationals, who were asymptomatic throughout their quarantine, to be tested immediately upon their return.

He explained that once the samples are taken, Parasram and his team will then decide whether they should serve the additional mandatory quarantine, under this country’s Quarantine Act, at their homes or at one of the State medical institutions being used for the pandemic.

Throughout the press conference, Young repeatedly stated that neither he nor any of his Government colleagues were engaged in a “back-room deal” with the group’s lawyers.

“We have always done everything above board and it can stand up to the highest levels of scrutiny,” Young said.

He also firmly denied that his decision on their exemption was based on racial considerations as alleged by one member of the group in an interview with a daily newspaper, last week.

While Young claimed that he had no issues with the contents of the said report, he took issue with the attached headline, which he claimed could misinform and misguide the population on the issue.

“I would never condone any censorship of the media but the key and critical word is: responsibility,” Young said.

Young, himself an attorney, also took aim at lawyers, who sought to represent such groups.

Although Young acknowledged that they (the lawyers) had a responsibility to seek their clients’ interests and protect their rights, he called for some understanding based on the global crisis caused by the rapid spread of the virus.

“We are all in this together. We can not break ranks. We must all do what is right,” Young said.

He also noted that he was in discussions with officials in Suriname to help facilitate medical tests on a group of nationals left stranded in that country.

Questioned over whether exemptions would be considered for other citizens, Young said yes, but noted that they would be considered on a case by case basis.

However, he maintained that the best option was to temporarily stay put.

During the press conference, Young revealed that he had received reports that psychic Yasenia Gonzales and her family were improperly impersonating local diplomats to solicit information from nationals stuck in Venezuela.

While he stated that he reported the situation to Venezuelan authorities, he could not say whether a criminal investigation had been launched.

“It is illegal anywhere in the world to be committing acts of fraud and passing yourself off especially as in something important as this,” Young said.