Maharaj on travel ban: Don't leave citizens stranded in China

Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. Photo by  - Ayanna Kinsale
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. Photo by - Ayanna Kinsale

GOVERNMENT must provide assistance to any citizens who travelled to China and are affected by the new coronavirus two-week travel restriction, said former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.

He was responding to a restriction announced by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh at the post-Cabinet media briefing on Thursday as part of measures to interrupt transmission of the respiratory virus which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared an international emergency. On Friday it was reported that the US is placing any citizen who has been in China's Hubei province (where the recent outbreak originated) in up to 14 days mandatory quarantine.

Maharaj told Newsday Government has a duty to help citizens abroad and if they have to be in another country assistance should be provided through the High Commissioner's Office. He also said such assistance should be announced, especially for those in China and those areas around China.

"You cannot leave citizens at the mercy of a foreign country through no fault of theirs stranded with no help. To impose a 14-day wait and provide no assistance I think that is not right. I think Government has a duty to assist citizens in that situation."

Asked whether the restriction itself breached any human rights Maharaj said a country needs to take whatever steps it thinks necessary having regard to its resources to prevent a disease or an infection of any communicable disease from spreading.

"It cannot be doubted that we do not have resources like China, America or England and therefore Government has to deal with it in a way that you may have inconvenience for some of the citizens. If you do not have the required quarantine facilities you could expose the population to dangers of health or even death."

On Deyalsingh's statements that TT is prepared to deal with the possibility of multiple cases Maharaj compared the response to the crisis in China where they have resources to build a new hospital in a day and a lot of medicine and staff.

"We do not have that kind of resources and facilities at this time."

He said that if the minister wants the population to be happy, he should enumerate and state publicly what are the facilities to address the coronavirus and the quantity of medicine and staff.

"We have no such information."

He said events like these made it imperative for governments of small countries to take appropriate steps to ensure they have resources and availability of required skill to deal with future situations or "the entire population or a substantial part could be affected."

TT national and teacher Shilohna Phillanders in China has complained about the lack of communication from the TT embassy in China.

Former senator Gerald Ramdeen also commented on the travel restrictions and said while the restriction of someone's liberty should be a matter of concern the safety and security of the health of citizens trumps any other interest. He added, however, that there should be specifics on the travel restriction and other measures instead of broad brush statements.

"From the reactionary way Government dealt with the crisis it is clear what is happening is unplanned and not properly thought out. And that will only lead to disaster because we are dealing with the health and well-being of the country."

He referenced the comments by Public Services Association president Watson Duke who called for proper gear and equipment to ensure the safety and health of immigration and customers workers and said the response by Deyalsingh and National Security Minister Stuart "left a lot to be desired." He said that neither answered the critical question that the equipment being supplied were ordinary masks and cannot be intended to protect those working on the borders and at the doorstep of a global crisis.

Ramdeen also said the ministers did not report whether the workers had received the requisite training.

"There are no details on what the Government is doing."

On Government not following recommendations of the Pan American Health Organisation and the WHO Ramdeen said that every citizen has to be concerned.

"We had Ebola and Sars before and you would have thought we learned from those experiences to take the necessary precautions. Are we as country ready if one case (of the coronavirus) is detected?"

He said that in Seoul, South Korea, infected people would be put in an institution and stay for 14 days.

"We are doing nothing close to what WHO said we should be doing and that leaves lot to be desired. I hope whatever is being done we take guidance from international organisations and health and safety remains a priority."

Attorney Gregory Delzin said the travel restrictions were in the interest of the society's welfare.

"Human rights is not an absolute right. If it is for the good of the society and the restrictions are necessary it may be an understandable restriction on the freedom of movement."

The total coronavirus deaths in Hubei has reached 249 and more than 9,709 cases have been confirmed in mainland China as well as a handful of cases in the US, England, Russia and Thailand.

Newsday sought clarification from Deyalsingh on the travel restriction on what would happen to a citizen unable to remain in China or another country and whether they would be allowed to enter TT and quarantined he replied in a WhatsApp message "No sir. I was clear." He was also asked where the individual would be stopped but he did not respond up to news time. An attempt to get clarification from Young was also unsuccessful.

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