Trinidad on lockdown
PORT OF SPAIN – The Trinidad and Tobago government Monday announced that only nationals would be allowed into the country for the next 14 days as it seeks to establish a sterile environment in a bid to curb the rise in the number of cases associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, speaking at a news conference following a special Cabinet meeting, said also that his administration would be embarking upon several other measures, including the closure of bars, schools, and new economic policies as the twin island republic comes to grip with the virus after having so far recorded four positive cases within a 48-hour period.
“We have taken the decision that Trinidad and Tobago will cease to encourage and facilitate for the next 14 days entry into our country, except under exceptional circumstances, the entry of persons who are not nationals of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley told reporters.
He said the exemptions will come from the Minister of Health through the Minister of National Security.
Rowley said among those likely to be given exemptions are employees of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), which is the main agency conducting tests for most Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries on the virus, as well as health personnel “and similar essential persons who we need”.
“Such persons would have to be exempt. Other than that we are basically disconnecting ourselves from the international community for the next 14 days,” Rowley said.
The Prime Minister said that decision will have far reaching consequences for the state-owned Caribbean Airlines (CAL), “which incidentally has been doing quite well”.
Rowley said in 2018, the airline was able to turn around its business and was reporting “tens of millions of dollars in profit for 2018, I think it was 54 million . . . and on Saturday I was scheduled to speak at a function where CAL was going to report its performance for 2019, which was quite significant”.
“I think the figure they were going to report was TT$124 million in profit, but now in a matter of weeks, the business of CAL and the future of CAL is now a matter for the Corporation Sole and we will do what we have to do at the company and at the level of the government to ensure that when this is over that we still have an airline. . . .
“But for the next 14 days we are required to shut down that operation except for nationals of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley said, adding that plans are underway to bring home 75 citizens “here in the Caribbean and I think they are elderly citizens, who are trying to make their way back home and we have to receive them because they are our citizens and we have no right, or legal framework in which we can deny them entry, they are coming home”.
Rowley described the coronavirus situation as “an emergency crisis”. He said the government would be dipping into the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) that had been established for “rainy days like these” adding that the government intends to introduce legislation to the Parliament to by-pass the stringent measures included for accessing the fund.
He said the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert will also outline some of the measures being taken to deal with the economic impact including the need to rethink the strategies for the reserves.