Members of the public, many wearing masks to protect themselves from COVID-19, cross the road along South Quay, Port-of-Spain, after leaving City Gate, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

While hundreds of citizens abroad anxiously await exemptions or the reopening of Trinidad and Tobago’s borders, their return may take a while as Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the Government cannot overburden the State’s parallel healthcare system.The Government has already stated that citizens abroad will be allowed to return in batches.

However, speaking on Tobago Channel 5’s Rise and Shine programme yesterday, Rowley explained that when cruise ship employees and university students return, it will max out quarantine facilities for 28 days.

The Government, he said, is allowing over 500 cruise ship employees and 300 university students to re-enter T&T.

But he noted that the State’s parallel healthcare system has 924 beds and the Government could not bring in that number of students and cruise ship employees all at once.

“The one thing that we are not going to do is drop our guard, become cavalier and allow what we have gained so far to be undermined,” Rowley said.

“When we bring those 500 students home, maybe not all at once, and we take 300 people off the cruise ships, maybe not all at once, that pretty much will max out our ability at least for 28 days. After you bring them in and they go into quarantine for 14 days, then you have to fix the facility to take in another batch.” He pointed out said if there is rampant COVID-19 spread among the returning nationals, the parallel healthcare system would be at capacity. It would also mean that there is no space in the system for the remaining 1.3 million citizens, so regular hospitals would have to treat with any spread. He said it was seen globally that the failure occurs when the number of infected people overcomes the healthcare system.“Remember, you cannot mix everybody. People who are not high risk in one population but because they have come from aboard, they have to be quarantined. You cannot mix those people with people coming off of a cruise ship, who have within their population of cruise ship attendants, some expression of the virus,” Rowley said.Rowley also defended his Government against claims from some segments of society that relief grants have been slow in coming. Saying the cries were only from those who did not get grants, Rowley said the Government needed to screen applicants as some people tried to exploit the system. He gave an example of a household of four people where all the occupants had applied for rental assistance.“We had to establish that they were renting, that they had a landlord and who is paying this rent. It cannot be all four of you paying the rent and want to claim. The problem is that we have to determine whether you qualify for it.”