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Dr Karen Sohan-Seenath

Sascha Wilson

Former Medical Chief of Staff at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital, Dr Karen Sohan-Seenath, has put forward a proposal for the accelerated repatriation of stranded nationals to the Government.

She posted the proposal on her Facebook page on Independence Day in response to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement on Saturday that they are going to maximise exemptions being granted. However, Rowley noted too that transportation would be a different issue because the borders are closed.

Sohan-Seenath’s post was later shared to the Trinidad and Tobago Citizens Stuck Abroad: Helping Hands page which was set up by Trinidadians stuck abroad as a support group. Sohan-Seenath is also a member of this group, having been stuck in Florida since March.

Over the past six months, nationals stuck in foreign countries have been pleading to come home. Many of them have shared horror stories on social media of running out of food, money, medicine and facing homelessness.

In an interview via Whatsapp with Guardian Media yesterday, Sohan-Seenath said the repatriation proposal was drafted based on consultation with health care professionals via social media and other forms of communication. She said it was also done in accordance with current local and international COVID-19 health care policy.

In her proposal, Sohan-Seenath suggested that Government brings home at least 300 people with a valid negative PCR test results every seven days. She said displaced nationals would be required to liaise with public health officials to arrange a place for their 14-day quarantine, at home or in state quarantine. She also suggested that a COVID-19 PCR test is done within 72 hours before anticipated air-travel. However, if a person is unable to pay for the test or does not have access to one, the Ministry of Health will advise them on alternative arrangements. She said nationals should pay their airfare but at a fair rate and that they sign the Public Health Quarantine order on arrival at the airport.

She said the Government should assist in the arrangement of flights.

“Consider New York, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, UK and Canada. Where possible, the national carrier will be utilized to assist nationals with cost. Approval of emergency cases on a need basis e.g. medical conditions, death of loved ones, pregnancy and child-birth.”

In the case of home quarantine, Sohan-Seenath said symptoms should be monitored by the County Medical Officer Health (CMOH) offices, as is currently being done for the 643 COVID-positive patients in home quarantine. In addition, she said spot checks are to be done by public health officials and/or the TTPS.

While relieved and excited yesterday that they may return home soon, nationals abroad were still concerned they would not be able to pay the airfare.

A 67-year-old woman in Baltimore since March complained via the Helping Hand Facebook group, “This is highway robbery, since many of us have return tickets, why should we have to pay money to charter a plane. The Government needs to let airlines come in and have people quarantined when they arrive.” Stuck in Seattle since March, another woman said she has run out of heart medication. In response to the Prime Minister’s announcement, she posted, “it’s only God & prayers that I’m still alive, this should have, though I’m happy to hear this news, the depression & mental frustration was real.”

Sohan-Seenath said the proposal was hand-delivered to the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of National Security and Ministry of Health.