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Dr Christopher Oura

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As the debate surrounding the exemption policy for nationals seeking to return home continues virology professor Dr Christopher Oura is sounding a word of caution.

In an interview with Guardian media yesterday, Oura explained that the discovery of a new strain of the virus is reason for concern against some claims that because T&T is undergoing a ‘community spread’ of the virus, there is less risk to the population.

“It certainly has a lot more nuance to it now that we have new variants appearing because they change the way we think about the risk,” he said.

“There’s community spread but there’s different levels of community spread. In some cases like the USA and the UK and Europe, there’s very high levels of spread whereas in some cases…some countries like Trinidad (is) managing to reduce spread to low levels.”

He explained that this disparity in transmission between T&T and other countries would still pose a risk to the local population.

Even if it is removed, Oura said, it may not be best practice for returning nationals to simply return to the country and go home to their loved ones.

“I wouldn’t support it and I don’t think people in Trinidad and Tobago would say we support allowing all the nationals to come back all at once and come back to their families. Of course, we’d love that to happen but that would put at risk, citizens in Trinidad and Tobago because a percentage, maybe a significant percentage of the people would bring the virus back with them,” he said.

Currently, between 10 and 11 per cent of returning nationals test positive for the virus.

He explained that the quarantine and testing protocols would still need to be adhered to in order to protect the population, similar to what is being done currently.

“Principally, we have to look at reducing the risk, allowing people back but putting systems in place. We know what those systems are. We know what we need to do to stop the virus from those people coming back into the country into the community. And it can be done. It’s just a little bit frustrating that it does take a little bit of time to be able to bring these people back. Because we can’t bring them back all at once,” he said.

Although Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley suggested that the exemption policy would be revised in 2021, there isn’t yet a concrete confirmation that borders would be reopened in the near future.

Yesterday Minister of National Security Stuart Young, in a three-page statement, concluded that “border closure remains a pillar of the COVID-19 management at this time and has proved effective in protecting our population in Trinidad and Tobago.”