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An aerial view of Port of Spain Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo: london.ac.uk)

Trinidad and Tobago closes borders to all foreigners

An aerial view of Port of Spain Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo: london.ac.uk)

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).

An aerial view of Port of Spain Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo: london.ac.uk)

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.

“We are instructing that gatherings beyond 25 be avoided at all costs except under unavoidable circumstances and in so far we are still functioning as a country going to work and doing things that we observe the space in between individuals.”

– Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley

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, noting that decision will have far reaching consequences for the state-owned Caribbean Airlines (CAL), “which incidentally has been doing quite well”.

“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”.

Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr Keith Rowley

Rowley described the coronavirus situation as “an emergency crisis.

“There is no gain saying that,” he said, noting that while the nature of the crisis “is temporary “as the virus settles itself among the human population, two months ago “we did not have that situation with us” But he said as his administration moves to deal with the crisis “we can’t allow decision to be made on the basis of avoiding inconvenience or avoiding pain because there is no solution to this without some inconvenience and some pain that goes with the action that are required to steer us away from worse case scenarios”.

Rowley said that the government would be dipping into the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) that had been established for “rain 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.

Prime Minister Rowley also disclosed that one of the foreign based energy companies operating there, had already taken a decision to “temporarily, I hope” shut down one of its plants in Trinidad and Tobago and Chile.

“This is as a direct result of the international market place having no space for what is being produced by these plants. The market place is saturated,” Rowley said, noting that this would mean economic losses for Trinidad and Tobago “and those are the kind of knock-ons and that’s what we are facing, what the world economy is facing”.

Rowley said that Cabinet took a decision that ‘bars…where people gather to drink and socialise will be closed, because our objective is to deny the virus connection from person to person.

“We are instructing that gatherings beyond 25 be avoided at all costs except under unavoidable circumstances and in so far we are still functioning as a country going to work and doing things that we observe the space in between individuals.”

Rowley said that schools will remain closed until April 20 and criticised some religious groups who think they have a special line to God” for continuing to hold gatherings despite being informed of the consequences of their actions.

“The real danger is if we are skylarking, we are not cooperating and we get a level of national infection which overwhelms the health system,” he said, warning that if health care workers become sick “then all the rest of us are in a much more vulnerable position and the help that we need we will not get”.