Jonelle John SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) test results

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The first Omicron case in Trinidad and Tobago was detected last December. The female patient, who flew from New York to Panama then Trinidad and Tobago, was said to be COVID-19 positive and breached this country’s travel protocols.

The woman’s identity was not revealed, until now.

Jonelle John said she is speaking out and considering legal action as she remains in hospital, although according to her, she is showing no symptoms.

Eager to share her side of the story, John spoke to Guardian Media via phone while at the Caura Hospital.

She said she is not the reckless person officials have made her out to be.

“I left New York on the 9th of December, when I went to Manhattan they told me that I needed a PCR test to leave but I thought that I needed any negative test to leave.”

John explained she did a PCR test, but when she learnt the results would not be sent quickly, she went to another place and did another PCR test hoping the results would come in time for her flight. When she again learnt this would not happen, she did an antigen test, which showed she tested negative for COVID-19.

“In all, I did three tests on that day.”

John said she is fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine she took in Trinidad and Tobago before she left for New York.

She added, “Thursday the 10th of December the day of my flight I started to organise to get to the airport and I did not get the results of the two PCR tests that I had taken and I said that I was not going to sit down and wait. I went to the airport to get information as to what to do.”

She explained when she arrived at the airport she checked in with Copa Airlines which was en route to Panama then Trinidad.

“I lined up in the airport for my flight, they asked me for a PCR test and I indicated to them that I don’t have a PCR test but wanted to find out what to do. While in the line I was told by another passenger about my travel documents, I was unaware of this and other passengers told me that I had to go online to fill out my information to be able to come to Trinidad and Tobago. There were things on the travel documents site I was unable to understand and even the staff at the airline could not assist. When I reached up to the counter I showed them my phone with a screenshot of the rapid negative test, she (attendant) said she could not use the test result like that so she asked for the email. I opened the email and I told her this was the only test I got back from the testing labs, the email showed the negative rapid test and the PCR test processing and the Copa Airlines allowed me.”

John added, “I don’t see that I did any crime. They saw my TT Travel pass documents and the negative rapid test they allowed me to pass and I said by the time on my way to Trinidad and Tobago, I would get my PCR test.”

John claimed when she arrived in Panama officials did not ask for tests or documents only the boarding pass.

“When I arrived in Trinidad at 1 am on the 10th of December, they put all the passengers in a line called health and asking for PCR test. By the time I reached up to the official, I told him that I don’t have a PCR test and I used a negative rapid test, they told me that I needed to show a PCR test. They pulled me out the line and place me in a next room there I went into my email and I did get my PCR test results and it showed the PCR positive, it was I who told the official why the PCR was showing positive, I made them aware.”

John said she was confused about the negative antigen test and the positive PCR test.

“At the airport, they asked me to do a PCR test which I had no problem doing. The staff was good to me, however, they told me that test I did in Trinidad showed I was positive and I would be taken to a local facility. That said evening I also got my result via email for the third test I did in New York and that test showed not detected. From New York, I had a rapid test showing negative, at Piarco I had PCR test showing positive and have two other PCR tests from New York with negative and positive results, they told me that the results at Piarco supersede the other tests I took in New York.”

John said she was taken via ambulance from the airport to the Arima Hospital and then transferred to Caura Hospital but she was not told she had the Omicron variant of COVID.

John said a few days later her friends, who knew she was expected back in the country, began to tell her what was being said on the news about a traveller coming into the country with the variant. It was then she realised the passenger was sounding a lot like her.

“I walked out of isolation at the hospital with tears in my eyes asking the nurses if it was me detected with Omicron, I asked them that from the news it sounds as if the person was me. A nurse who carried me back in the room told me that I have the Omicron variant, I asked why this reached out to the news and I was not even aware that I was infected with the variant and I cried,” she said.

John said she has been in isolation for 21 days.

Ministry of Health guidelines dictate that a patient must present two negative tests to be discharged.

“I am still in the hospital as we speak, there is absolutely nothing wrong with me and I am not getting any answers and all I am being told is that we are awaiting test results, I am not wrong here I am willing to fight this in court. I was fearful to come out and speak due to fear of victimisation but it is 21 days I am here with no symptoms and I have followed all the guidelines and the staff has been great.”

Police have launched an investigation into the matter and Guardian Media was told inquiries are ongoing.