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Dr Karen Sohan-Seenath

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Former medical chief of staff at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital Dr Karen Sohan-Seenath is calling on the government to remove the requirement for returning nationals to undergo state quarantine. Her call comes days before a committee established by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is set to review the exemption policy for nationals seeking to return home.

Sohan-Seenath was quarantined at the UWI’s Canada Hall after arriving into the country on October 19 from Miami and she told Guardian Media she was disappointed by the facilities and her experience.

According to Sohan-Seenath, there were shortcomings with the entire process especially at the facility, which she said, had communal areas such as washrooms which would increase the risk of contracting the virus from a passenger who might have been positive and remained asymptomatic.

“At that point, where social distancing collapsed completely, I realised it was an all or nothing situation. It’s either we were all going to be negative or if someone was positive there, we were at risk for being infected,” she said.

Sohan-Seenath, who was credited as being instrumental in this country’s response to the Zika crisis in 2016, believes that it’s time the requirement for state quarantine be abolished.

She said, there is evidence to prove that it would pose no further threat to the COVID-19 fight locally.

“The existing evidence suggests or supports home quarantine. Since July 30 the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued guidelines for international travel. What it states is basically, if you are travelling from a country with community spread to a country with community spread, there is no additional risk to the resident population,” she said.

“If the local policy is that asymptomatic positive patients quarantine at home then why can’t returning nationals who are asymptomatic when they board that aircraft quarantine at home?”

This move, she said, would save taxpayer dollars which can be utilised more efficiently. She suggested that it could be used to purchase additional personal protective equipment for medical workers or even to help return stranded nationals home.

Government softened its stance on mandatory quarantine requirements for repatriated nationals on September 5, just ten days after it switched to home self-isolation of COVID-19 positive people with mild to no symptoms—a move forced by the country’s transition into community transmission and its rapid spread.

Before this juncture, all returning nationals were mandated to serve a 14-day quarantine in either state quarantine or state-supervised quarantine. Since then, the Ministry of National Security announced that those returning from Moderate to High-Risk countries would be mandated to serve a seven-day quarantine in a state facility.

Criteria for those returning from high/medium risk countries:

• Will be state quarantined for 7 days upon arrival in Trinidad and Tobago (down from the previous 14 days)

• Will be swabbed within 24 hours of arrival into Trinidad and Tobago

• Once the person does not test positive and does not present symptoms of COVID-19 within the seven-day period he/she will be required to agree (via signing a form) that he/she will home quarantine for the next 7 days. Before being allowed to home quarantine, he/ she will be swabbed again;

• If the person is positive for COVID-19 and does not require hospitalisation it will be up to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Ministry of Health to either hospitalise the individual or allow the individual to quarantine at home for the remainder period as determined by the CMO (Ministry of Health);

• If the person requires hospitalisation he/she will be hospitalised;

• The CMO (Ministry of Health) may send a person to a step-down facility after the first 7 days for observation, if so determined.