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A National Security bus carrying six Caribbean Princess cruise ship workers leaves the Cruise Ship Complex.

Defending statements made by the National Security Minister about asking a cruise ship to dock in T&T waters and quarantine over 300 nationals on board, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh says the parallel health care system set up to combat COVID-19 cannot hold so many people.

Deyalsingh was speaking during the Ministry of Health press conference yesterday, where he said there continue to be no active cases of the COVID-19 virus. He said there are 87 people in quarantine, with 59 at the University of the West Indies Debe campus, seven at the Cascadia Hotel and 21 people at the Couva Hospital. Deyalsingh said over the next several days, 56 more nationals are expected to arrive home.

On Sunday, in an interview with I95.5FM, National Security Minister Stuart Young said he would be reaching out to the owners of the Royal Caribbean Visions of the Seas cruise ship to ask whether their 300 plus Trinidadian crew members could be quarantined on the ship for 14 days. If the cruise ship management agrees, when those 14 days are over, Young said the crew members would be allowed onshore and be released to their families.

Yesterday Deyalsingh said it was the Ministry of Health who suggested the cruise ship quarantine to Young.

“We threw out the option to the Minister of National Security which he is addressing with the agents for these ships that we simply may not have enough land-based facilities to quarantine 300, 400, 500 people,” he said.

He said while cruise ships may be a breeding ground for viruses when they are active, these cruise ships now only remain with their crew members.

“Cruise ships under normal conditions where you have a mixture of positive cases, passengers, thousands of crews is not the ideal environment to be in at the best of times. These cruise ships now have been totally decanted of passengers for maybe months now and crews have gone down from thousands to now tens and hundreds.”

He said while Opposition Member of Parliament Prakash Ramadhar has called on the Government to use its existing 900-plus beds in the parallel health care system to quarantine incoming nationals, half of those beds have to be reserved for people who are actually sick.

“When we say there are 900 plus beds across the system, let me explain: our step down facilities, at Home of Football, is 86, Brooklyn is 40, Balandra is 70, so for step-down, you have 196. At our convalescent centres- NAPA which we use for health care workers- 60- at the racquet centre we have 48, at Debe, we have 96- that gives you a total of about 210. At the hospital setting to treat persons, you have 542- that gives you a total of 948,” Deyalsingh explained.

But he said Ramadhar may have misinterpreted those figures. He said within the hospital setting, 85 per cent capacity is considered a ‘full capacity’ and because COVID-19 is an infectious disease, the figure has been reduced to 75 per cent.

He said that means of the 406 beds available for quarantine, ideally only 304 should be used.

“That is why it is difficult to bring in 400 or 500 persons at the same time on land and the 502 in the hospital setting which you have to reserve and leave for people tested as COVID positive or who are highly suspect so you can’t put in returning nationals into your hospital system,” Deyalsingh said.

Asked about whether the Ministry was advising Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on when Phase 3 of the reopening should be implemented, Deyalsingh said, “The Prime Minister will contact us when he needs the advice, as he has done for the other two phases of opening and we are prepared to give him that advice. We are collating a lot of information right now because when he calls on us again, for the third time, we must be ready to give him the most up-to-date advice, as what we will do with phases 3, 4 and 5.”