St Vincent places Trinidad resident under quarantine
KINGSTOWN – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that a Nigerian-born, Trinidad and Tobago resident, had been placed under quarantine here, after his arrival in St Vincent and the Grenadines from Guyana led to the closure of the domestic terminal of the Argyle International Airport (AIA) and the airline, LIAT, grounded for several hours.
Gonsalves, speaking on a radio programme here, said that Port of Spain had initially said that it would not allow the LIAT aircraft to land or the man to deplane.
He said that the man, who is married to a Trinidad and Tobago national, was also turned away from a number of hotels here before one decided to allow him to complete his quarantine at their facilities.
Earlier reports said that 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 updated the nation on his government’s plans to deal with the virus, said that 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 p.m. 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 minutes, 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”.
Gonsalves said that none of the “40-odd” people who came to 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.
Late Saturday night, the Ministry of Health issued a bulletin, asking people who had travelled to St Vincent on LIAT’s LI771 to contact the COVID-19 hotline.
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.
Gonsalves said that the man would be tested for COVID-19, reminding nationals, the coronavirus is “a serious problem”.
“But it’s not a problem, it’s not a difficulty for which we must have a heightened fear, panic or hysteria. A heightened fear, panic and hysteria will not help us,” Gonsalves said, adding that the man, whom he understands works in Tobago “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 the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, Faris Al Rawi, who agreed with me.
Gonsalves said he had tried to reach Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley but was unable to do so.
Gonsalves said that in addition to the attorney general in Port-of-Spain, he also spoke to the Minister of National Security in Trinidad and Tobago, Stuart Young.
The prime minister said he also contacted his Barbadian counterpart, Mia Mottley — who is also chair of CARICOM, and CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque.
“Because all our institutions must be kept in play, this is what leadership has to be about. Now there were two, two interesting cases.”
The prime minister noted that the passengers on the Barbados-St Vincent leg of the Trinidad-bound flight included two Germans.
“But the rules in Trinidad are that no Germans are allowed in. That’s what I’ve been advised,” he said, adding “now, those rules should be known properly in Barbados. Well, fortunately again, those two persons had no symptoms.
“And their travel history would have been checked and everything. We do them in accordance with all the protocols in managing the risk . . . I’m told all sorts of crazy stuff was spoken about this particular incident involving this, this particular aircraft, but what I’ve given you supplemented with some of the details . . . that’s the story,” Gonsalves said.
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).