T&T nationals who returned home from Suriname deplane at the Piarco International Airport on May 1. They are all now quarantined at the UWI Campus in Debe.

The latest batch of nationals who’ll be allowed to return to Trinidad and Tobago are groups in Guyana, Venezuela and Margarita – but everyone will have to make their own way home as Government won’t be sending repatriation flights.

And Government’s now being flooded almost “hourly with requests from nationals all over the world seeking exemption from border closure regulations, trying to get home.”

National Security Minister Stuart Young confirmed this at yesterday’s daily Ministry of Health COVID-19 update briefing.

Air and sea border closures are among measures Government’s taken to protect T&T against COVID-19 spread. Virus cases were imported into T&T in March and there have been 116 cases and eight deaths – but no new cases recently.

Young yesterday said there’s been success with measures to curb spread. He said Government has been allowing some nationals into T&T with Health Ministry experts’ advice, doing it in a way that the ministry can manage any possibility of COVID reinfection.

The group of 33 nationals who returned from Barbados recently tested negative and were released from quarantine on Tuesday. Also, 66 nationals and one permanent resident returned from Suriname on May 1.

But Young said yesterday that there are 330,000 T&T passports held by nationals outside the country and many are beginning to apply for border-closure exemptions to return here.

“We’re getting requests almost hourly – even up to (this morning) – from nationals in India, UK, US, Saudi Arabia. Every corner. But Government continues to protect T&T carefully and we’re managing return of nationals. Unfortunately, we cannot encourage repatriation of people scattered all over the world,” he said.

He said the next group being allowed entry are 23 workers based in Guyana.

“We’ve authorised their return, they’re in the process of making travel arrangements and we’re awaiting approval. It seems the majority were working in the oil sector,” he said.

Approval was also given for a young woman who was in the Bahamas to return. She was having medical issues and was trying to arrange a medical air ambulance to return.

Young said he also authorised entry for people in Margarita and Venezuela.

“We’re preparing for when they arrive, the Chief Medical Officer and Health will decide how they’re handled after being medically examined and assessed,”

He said Government wasn’t paying for returns by anyone.

Some nationals in Venezuela and Margarita have claimed they’re out of funds and want to know if Government would send a plane for them.

To this, Young said, “No –not at this stage. Government’s not in a position to send repatriation flights all over the world. People are writing us from all over. Those in Suriname and Guyana are finding their way back – that’s where it’s at, at this stage. We’ve done our part. When we allow people to return in this managed way, it’s up to them to make their way here,” Young said.

Young said the hundreds of nationals on cruise ships are also being considered.

“We’re very aware of them. We’d said shelter in place. We’re told by cruise ship companies they’re being looked after. So it’s the best place to be. We’re managing the (COVID) process with one mantra: protect the T&T population in TT.”

On possible mandatory quarantining for travellers when borders eventually reopen, Young said, “We’re not at that bridge yet, how we deal with people returning ahead, we’ll make the necessary announcement.”

He said it was premature to discuss quarantining’s effect on tourism since Government needs to see how things go globally. But work is being done with the energy sector – a revenue lifeline – so production levels don’t decline. Young said the Prime Minister said a meeting would be held by Government and decisions would be made on going forward and “rolling back” some measures, based on Health advice.

“Borders are a line of defence. T&T’s in fairly good control of virus spread – the last thing we want is reimportation of cases to flood the system.”