Stuart Young, Minister of National Security

Some 250 nationals, on cruise ships around the region, will not be able to come home since this country will not be able to handle that surge at this stage of the COVID crisis.

National Security Minister Stuart Young confirmed this yesterday as he also disclosed that T&T’s borders won’t be opened on April 30, unless Government gets medical guidance to do so.

Local borders were closed progressively from March 17–starting with non-nationals–and closed completely to all on March 23.

Young said it was not a decision Government wanted to take, but was done on medical experts’ advice to prevent importation of the virus through travel.

He said: “I daresay it’s worked to protect T&T. Any breaking of the borders at this stage holds potential to start reimportation of the virus into T&T, putting all at risk,” he said noting the 50-plus cases which stemmed from one importation.

A large number of T&T passengers who had been on the Costa Favolosa cruise ship in March developed the virus after returning home.

Young said there are over 250 other nationals on cruise ships across the region who want to return.

But he said T&T cannot take that surge of people currently while trying to protect the population.

“It’s not an easy decision, it weighs very heavily on me but it’s a necessary measure at this stage. We’re aware the (nationals) are in their own rooms and are being fed properly,” he said.

He said everyone–including himself, the Prime Minister and others–have family members outside of T&T, “but airlines and cruise ships are nests for reimportation of the virus,” he added.

He said the 330,000 nationals outside of T&T must also shelter in place.

Young also revealed that the Prime Minister’s office on Tuesday instructed the Foreign Affairs Ministry to write a particular Caricom state to stress that territory should not be used as a “jumping-off point” for TT nationals trying to get home.

He said this country would not permit other states who have open borders to be used as a point for persons to return here “…As people are trying to do now.”

The letter detailed this country’s anti-COVID measures including border closure, adding the situation should not be compromised.

On when borders might reopen, Young said the situation is very fluid.

“We’ll continue assessing the situation. But it won’t happen on April 30 unless we’re so guided by medical experts. Our border control management protects us from importation of the virus when it’s still rampant internationally,” he said.

Young said Singapore, Japan and South Korea, which initially did well controlling the virus, immediately got second COVID waves when they relaxed measures.

“Bearing that in mind, we have no intention at this stage to allow borders to become porous and allow free flow access (to T&T),” he said.

He said exemptions are continuing in strict ways and he gets scores of calls daily- and in the case of people on cruise ships, hundreds of calls.

“We’re following Commonwealth precedent in dealing with it,” he noted.

He said requests are examined case-by-case and so single measure anyone takes will lead to an exemption.

“We empathise, but best thing is to shelter in place. No amount of lawyering up will change anything,” he noted.

Regarding a man who claimed he had gone to Venezuela seeking cancer treatment for a relative and was trying to return, Young said the man’s family called him immediately and distanced themselves from his claim. They noted the man’s credit card continued to be topped up in T&T,

He said: ”It’s not easy being constantly bombarded with these stories.”