Thirty-five TT citizens stranded in Barbados are now in a remote hotel there under mandatory quarantine. They landed in Barbados on their way back to TT, but cannot return home because of the closure of the borders.
The TT citizens, who left TT on Carnival Tuesday (February 25) to embark on a cruise from Dubai to South Africa, will now have to pay the hotel US$55 a day per room to stay there.
The group includes several retired nurses, a former school principal, retired teachers and former employees of Petrotrin.
Newsday was told they are at the Sugar Cane Club Hotel and Spa in Speightstown. They arrived in Barbados on Monday.
Accommodation for the group was scarce. They were given the choice of staying at the hotel –the only one willing to accept them – or be quarantined at a Barbadian army barracks.
But there was a catch – they would have to stay at the hotel at their own expense.
When Newsday spoke to Phillip Ramdial, one of the 35 stranded Trinis, he said they were being made to isolate themselves in their hotel rooms. There are two people to a room, each of which has a bathroom, kitchenette and balcony.
After being screened at the airport, the Trinis were paired off and taken to their rooms.
The US$55 bill is for accommodation alone. If they need food they will have to pay for that as well. Ramdial said a meal plan was also put together for those who could afford it, and for those who couldn’t, an offer was made to go to the grocery on their behalf.
Ramdial expressed gratitude for the hospitality they have received from the government of Barbados, at a time when even their own country would not accept them.
“When we got to the hotel, we were given a complimentary dinner.
“The Barbadian Prime Minister arranged for them to deliver groceries. I also understand that Massy Barbados is sending another package of groceries for us. Doctors have visited us already and done checks on us.
“I want to thank (Barbados PM) Mia Mottley for accommodating us,” Ramdial said.
But, although they are comfortable for the moment, the situation could go very bad very quickly for the group, whose average age is 65.
Ramdial said their funds and medication are rapidly depleting, but hypertension is rising among the group as they ponder what their fate might be, should the TT border remain closed after their quarantine is over.
Newsday was told several people in the group wept when they arrived in Barbados, on hearing that they would not be allowed to continue their journey to TT.
“It is so disappointing to know that your own country, where you were born in and had grown in, is turning you away,” Ramdial said. “If the quarantine period passes and the TT borders are still closed we may have to swim to another island or hop on a shark.”
In an interview on a Barbadian news channel, Barbados Attorney General Dale Marshall said the decision to take in the Trinis was an easy one, for humanitarian reasons.
He pointed out that Barbados had no legal obligation to take them in.
“We could have denied them landing rights into Barbados. (But) we had no idea what the situation would be for them in England.
“We felt we were in a position to adequately receive these individuals, so long as they were put into mandatory quarantine.”
He noted that conditions were worsening in the UK – from where the travellers had flown to Barbados – as a lockdown is being put in place there to contain the spread of covid19.
He also said that on Monday Barbados reached out to the TT government to “urge” it to take the Trinis in, but the TT government denied them entry.
Newsday asked Minister of National Security Stuart Young whether government is considering assisting the Trinis with the cost of their hotel accommodation, a question that was raised in a press conference at the Ministry of Health in Port of Spain on Tuesday.
Young responded that government is holding fast to its decision to keep the borders closed.
“We did not command or ask anyone to leave TT and not make their way back here. Everyone took personal decisions.
“The people who went out and weren’t able to make their way back in – we feel for them, but the duty of the government is to protect those who are here in TT.” Young argued, “The only way a country has a chance to beat this is to take some of the difficult decisions and measures that we have done, on the advice of the medical experts.
“It is not something that we wanted to do. It is not something we take pleasure in doing.
“But the reason is for you, the remainder of the population in TT.
“Every person that we allow in now presents a risk potentially.”
He added that Barbados had mandated a 14-day quarantine nationwide.
Ramdial told Newsday that when the group left the country for Dubai on February 25, that was long before the government gave the advice to stay in TT and only travel if necessary. When that advice was given and the borders were closed to non-nationals, in mid-March, the travellers were in the middle of the Indian Ocean on their cruise.
All the while, no confirmed cases of covid19 were found among the group or on the cruise ship.
But the cruise ship was turned away by several countries in the Indian Ocean, because of their own policies to contain the virus, until the passengers were allowed to disembark in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sunday – the day TT’s borders were to be closed.
The group took an Emirates flight to London and was on the way back to TT on a British Airways flight when they were told the plane would not be allowed to land in Trinidad.
Meanwhile British Airways will take UK citizens on special one-way flights out of TT until March 26, by arrangement with the TT government.