Trinidad's Minister of National Security Stuart Young. (GP)
PORT OF SPAIN – The Trinidad and Tobago government Tuesday defended its decision not to re-open its borders to accommodate 33 nationals stranded in Barbados, insisting that the measure is part of an overall effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) here.
“The only way a country has a chance to beat this, to keep the curve down is to take some of the difficult decisions and the measures we have done on the advice of medical experts,” National Security Minister Stuart Young told a news conference here.
“So whenever we shut our borders . . . it is not something that we wanted to do, it is not something we take pleasure in doing, but the reason for it is to protect you, the remaining population in Trinidad and Tobago and every person we allow in now presents a risk potentially,” he said, adding the government had announced last week the intended closure of the borders and that there were still available flights for nationals wanting to return home.
Young told reporters that he had been in discussions with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley and Attorney General, Dale Marshall on Monday regarding the Trinidad and Tobago nationals, describing the deliberations as “a very CARICOM conversation”.
”I emphasised what our position was and they understood,” he said, adding that Barbados already has in place mandatory self-quarantine or quarantine period of 14 days.
“The Prime Minister of Barbados and the Attorney General pointed out that Barbados has a mandatory quarantine or quarantine by the state of 14 days. That is their attempt to try to protect their population. They understand what is taking place and we went a step further and closed our borders, not because we want to keep any Trinidadian out that is not the reason.
“It is to protect those who are within our borders,” he said, adding that he found it a “little bit disappointing” to be asked by the media here whether or not the government would be footing the hotel bill for the Trinidadians in Barbados.
“That was one of my discussions yesterday with the Prime Minister of Barbados and the Attorney General of Barbados. They said they would do what they can to see our people comfortable, they have to comply with the strictures of the mandatory quarantine in Barbados.
“I am being asked today by the media whether we in Trinidad and Tobago will foot the bill for these people at a hotel in Barbados. The population of Trinidad and Tobago understand what we are faced with. The population of Trinidad and Tobago understands that we did not command or ask anyone to leave Trinidad and Tobago and not make their way back here.”
Young said that everyone “took personal decisions, the people who have gone out weren’t able to make their way back in . . . I feel empathy for them, we honestly do, but the duty of the government, which we are very clear about is to protect those who are here in Trinidad and Tobago and to uphold our decision to close the border”.
Marshall, speaking on the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on Monday night, said that the Trinidad and Tobago nationals arrived in Barbados on Monday and they were immediately treated to special protocols.
“The entire machinery of Government kicked into operation – the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Tourism and so on. Essentially it is our responsibility that all Barbadians are safe. This presented some challenges for us in relation to this particular situation.
“Obviously these individuals, having done their travels, intended to go into Trinidad. But the position is that they were not accepting them. We reached out to the government of Trinidad and Tobago during the course of the day to urge that they take their citizens. But the fact of the matter is that they declined to do so,” Marshall said.
He said while the individuals were not elderly, “they are certainly not the youngest.
“We had to make a humanitarian decision and it was a decision that we felt was principled and correct, ensuring at all times that Barbadians were safe,” Marshall added, noting that his country does not have a legal responsibility to accept individuals other than its own citizens.
During the news conference, where it was disclosed that Trinidad and Tobago had recorded two more positive cases, bringing to 53, the number of persons diagnosed with the virus, Young told reporters he was also disappointed that at least one media house had referred to one of the cases as “community spread start in Trinidad and Tobago”.
“These are the types of headlines that can create panic,” Young warned. (CMC)
Editor's Note: Story changed to reflect it is 33 people, not 35 as originally reported.