THE announcement that TT's borders will be closed from midnight on Sunday has heightened the anxiety of TT citizens who are abroad and are now trying desperately to get home.
Among them are 70 citizens stranded in Margarita, 35 in South Africa and one citizen who lives and works in Sudan.
The announcement means that no international flights, no TT national or non-national will be allowed into TT after midnight on Sunday until further notice. National Security Minister Stuart Young announced at a news conference at the Health Ministry's office on Park Street, Port of Spain on Saturday.
Phillip Ramdial, leader of a group of 35 TT nationals in South Africa who were on a cruise ship, was worried that they would not be able to return home before midnight on Sunday.
Ramdial, the owner of Just Go Travel agency, said they were leaving Cape Town on Sunday for Dubai and then to Gatwick Airport in the UK. But he said the flight back to TT would arrive at Piarco International Airport on Monday at 6.40 am.
"I am appealing to them to leave it open for one more day," Ramdial said. He added that if this happens, the group could return home. The group consists of male and female retirees, most of them over 60. Ramdial said no member of the group tested positive for covid19 and they have been cleared to leave the ship.
Newsday columnist Debbie Jacob said her daughter Ijanaya, who has been living and working in Sudan for the last two years, is trying desperately to get home.
Due to travel restrictions in several neighbouring African countries, Jacob said Ijanaya had great difficulty in getting a flight from Sudan to France.
She said Ijanaya was now en reroute from Paris to New York. She is booked to travel on a CAL flight scheduled to leave New York for TT at 1.30 am in TT on Sunday. Jacob said Ijanaya was told there would be no CAL flights from New York after 5 pm on Saturday.
She did not know whether this information was accurate. Information on CAL's website said showed there is a flight departing New York at 1.05 am on Sunday and arriving in TT at 6.05 am. There are also reports on social media of 15 students at Cave Hill campus in Barbados who are unable to return home.
Young said, "Government has taken a decision that as of midnight tomorrow night. We will be closing off our borders completely. We will no longer be allowing international flights into TT." Young added this also applies to TT's seaports.
He said Government took this decision "on very clear medical advice given to us."
"These decisions are in furtherance of how we protect and secure the people of TT." While TT's borders will be closed and maritime security will be intensified, Young said cargo ships and planes would be allowed to enter TT but the crew would not be allowed to disembark.
"Pharmaceuticals, food supplies, continue to come to TT." This includes Caricom traders, whose vessels bring ground provisions into TT. Young said the Prime Minister reminded him earlier in the day "we are the ones who must take these hard and difficult decisions."
On TT nationals stranded in Margarita, Young said, "I was told by our embassy in Caracas that they were in touch with persons in Margarita. They are making arrangements as best as can be. This is not confined to us alone."
He said the US with "all of their military planes that they can fly into anywhere in the world had not taken those types of decisions for their citizens who are stuck in countries that have closed their borders and have closed their international airports."
Young said Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is continuing its domestic flights and Government will leave the airline to work out its logistics. Based on advice from Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, Young said, "We had started asking CAL to quarantine crews that were going out on international travel."
In a statement, CAL said it would restrict its international flights in line with the closure of TT's borders. CAL confirmed that its domestic operations would continue. The airline said this information might change depending on further information from the Government. CAL urged customers with valid international tickets beyond March 23 to place them on hold for future travel.
In a second statement, CAL said it is trying to assist TT nationals in returning home with a flight from Guyana to Trinidad (BW3462) from Guyana to TT. This flight will leave Guyana at 11.10 am on Sunday. Guyana closed its two main airports to international flights because of the covid19 pandemic.
CAL CEO Garvin Medera in a separate statement said the airline's passenger services from Jamaica end at midnight on Saturday. All CAL's other international passenger services end on midnight on Sunday.
Passengers booked on an affected service will have their bookings cancelled. Once international services resume, Medera said customers would be able to contact CAL regarding rebooking and the airline will waive any applicable charges at that time. Medera apologised for the disruption caused to passengers and thanked them for their continued support to CAL.
Young also said the closure of TT's borders would have no impact on the registration of Venezuelan nationals in TT or the extension of their stay. He explained there was still time to review this process. Young said Venezuelans in TT could return home if they wanted but they may not be able to as Venezuela's borders are closed.
"We are not preventing people from leaving. We are preventing people from coming in."
Young also said Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan is looking at covid19 protocols for the inter-island ferry. In a statement, the Works and Transport Ministery said the Port Authority, Public Transport Service Corporation and Water Taxi Service have all implemented covid19 protocols. These include social distancing practices which will see passenger accommodation on the ferries, water-taxis and PTSC buses being reduced by 50 per cent until further notice.
Contacted subsequently, Sinanan said the Airports Authority had contingencies in place to deal with an influx of people returning to TT on Sunday ahead of the midnight deadline.
He said only scheduled flights will be leaving and arriving at TT's airports on Sunday. Sinanan was also confident that effective covid19 screening measures were in place at the airports and seaports.