A Nigerian-born T&T resident was placed under quarantine in St Vincent and the Grenadines shortly after his arrival there from Guyana.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said in a radio interview that the man’s arrival led to the closure of the domestic terminal of the Argyle International Airport (AIA) and the airline, LIAT, was grounded for several hours.
He said Port-of-Spain had initially said that it would not allow the LIAT aircraft to land or the man to deplane. The man, who is married to a T&T national, was turned away from a number of hotels in St Vincent before one decided to allow him to complete his quarantine at their facilities.
The man had left Guyana after having only been in quarantine for seven of the mandatory 14 days after he tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). Gonsalves, who detailed the incident as he gave an update on his government’s plans to deal with the virus, said he was prepared to make his private home available for housing the man if hotel accommodation had not been secured.
Gonsalves said that apparently, the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines (CAL), which had flown the man to Guyana, had identified him “as somebody whom they will have to watch because he came in on the flight went to the Guyanese authority and he attempted to leave the night before the last (Friday night) from Guyana on CAL”.
CAL denied the man boarding and at 11:50 pm. Friday, the Trinidadian carrier sent traffic communication to LIAT.
“Normal traffic, not anything heightened, I understand, to indicate that they had stopped this person and he might try to get to Trinidad by LIAT,” Gonsalves said, adding “but LIAT didn’t see that traffic.”
Gonsalves said on Saturday morning, the man boarded a LIAT flight from Guyana to Trinidad, connecting via Barbados and St. Vincent.
“But LIAT only informed us several hours after they began work the morning in Guyana because it takes two hours to go from Guyana to Barbados. You deplane people in Barbados you take on; that’s a 20-minute, half an hour activity. Takes half an hour to come to St. Vincent
“All the passengers, some 40-odd of them deplaned in from St. Vincent, left a few on-board-passengers not only deplaned but cleared Immigration and Customs and persons were cleared to go on to the flight and were on the plane.
“It’s only then we found out. That would have been certainly four and a half, five hours after LIAT began work that morning in Guyana. Obviously that’s unacceptable,” Gonsalves said, adding that Julie Reifer-Jones, LIAT’s chief executive, had accepted this.
Gonsalves said that CAL and LIAT and other airlines have to communicate with each other “in a manner which would show the heightened nature of this issue.”
He said that none of the “40-odd” persons who arrived in St Vincent on the flight had “any symptoms or any travel history, when questioned by the immigration, which would require further action, like, for instance, quarantining.
“But it is the task of our ministry to have to track down 40-something persons,” he said.
Gonsalves said that Director of Airport, Corsel Robertson, took the decision to close the domestic terminal to accommodate the passengers on the LIAT flight, except the Nigerian-Trinidadian, who was placed in an ambulance.
He said that the man will be tested for COVID-19 and remained Vincentians the coronavirus is “a serious problem” but the man had “acted not as responsibly as he should have by breaking his 14-day quarantine” and in light of this, police security has been posted at his hotel.
“The initial reaction from the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago at the airport … was not the best. The reports that I received is that they say that plane will not be coming back to Trinidad,” said Gonsalves, who is chair of LIAT’s shareholder governments.
He said the highest levels of LIAT’s corporate headquarters in Antigua told him that the authorities at the airport in Trinidad were “reported as saying to me that the Trinidadian would not be allowed in.
“So I had to tell him that is fantasy,” Gonsalves said, adding, “You can’t deny a citizen the right to return to his country.”
He said he called Attorney General Faris Al Rawi, who agreed with him.
“But the LIAT plane was still not permitted to enter. Subsequently, the plane was… it might have been this morning that they left or very late last night,” he said.
Gonsalves said he had tried to reach Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley but was unable to do so because Rowley was “somewhere where the signal and internet facility was not available”. He said he also spoke to Minister of National Security Stuart Young and contacted his Barbadian counterpart, Mia Mottley, who is also chair of Caricom, and Caricom Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque.
LIAT has since issued a statement indicating that it has taken “immediate measures” to ensure the safety of all its stakeholders after it had been “advised” that a passenger who travelled on one of its services has subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19).