Despite an appeal by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for understanding and tolerance towards persons recovering from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), residents of Brooklyn Settlement, Sangre Grande, remained adamant yesterday that they do not want them in their community.
In a telephone interview with Guardian Media, one woman, who did not want to be identified, suggested using the T&T Football Association’s 72-room hotel in Couva to house recovering patients, noting that venue remains unopened.
“That facility is closer to the Couva Hospital and it also has the isolation and acreage they need for these recovering patients,” the woman said.
Referring to the facility at Bridge Road where the ministry proposes to house the patients, she said it was not properly secured, as the front wall is only four feet high, the back of the property is unfenced and only a chain-link wire-fence separates it from the nearest property which is metres away. She accused the Ministry of Health of failing to carry out proper research before determining the suitability of the venue as a step-down or holding bay facility.
“Close to 70 persons live inside here and close to that facility are elderly people over the age of 65. They needed to do more research on the area’s population before deciding it was a good place,” she said.
Despite this, she applauded the rationale behind setting up such facilities.
“I have no issue with them needing to put the people somewhere, I agree with it, but when you look at where the home is, it is mere metres away and not acreage as they are claiming. Inside Brooklyn, the land is acreage but the housing isn’t.”
She said this was why they took their concerns to Sangre Grande Regional Corporation chairman Anil Juteram.
“We are not scorning anyone but this is a scary situation because at that facility, the acreage is the empty land to the back of the property with fruit trees. Every house is probably on an acre and a half of land but between house to house, it is not an acre that separates them.”
She said they learned yesterday that soldiers, who have been at the facility since residents staged a fiery protest over the proposal, will be staying at the Brooklyn Settlement Community Centre. The soldiers will be using the centre as a base for the duration of the time they will be required to guard the residents at the step-down facility. A second resident told Guardian Media that although he was still upset over the proposed move, he also recognised that the authorities will do what they want regardless of how they feel.
One resident who only identified himself as Darkman said, “It had more police than cars up on this side. It’s a patrol every five minutes but the area real quiet.”
Providing a helping hand to his neighbour as he spoke with Guardian Media, Darkman added: “It’s not a matter of discrimination but people are frightened, we don’t know what to expect. Nobody would want them being moved into a house next to where they live so why they forcing us to accept that?”
He said he will be keeping more to himself now as a further precautionary measure to ensure he does not contract the virus.
Also commenting on the situation, Juteram, who has been operating as a conduit between the police and residents to ensure there is an amicable resolution, Juteram said: “The manner in which things were done initially is what traumatised the residents. There was a clear breach of protocols where the people weren’t sensitised.”
He said other questions were now being asked, including whether or not the building has the relevant approvals from the OSH Authority, Fire Service and the Town and Country Planning Division.
“My duty is not to come down on the victims. I am very sympathetic towards them because in the morning…it could be my father or brother. This is a crisis the country is facing and I am a patriot first and foremost but I also understand the fears the residents are expressing,” Juteram said.
Residents reportedly only learned of the move to relocate recovering patients to a former home for the aged around 5.30 pm Friday, when pamphlets about the virus were hastily distributed by authorities.
Hours later, a group of residents blocked Bridge Road with burning debris to convey their dissatisfaction with the decision, claiming they had not been consulted. Police and soldiers were sent in on Saturday to keep the peace. (See Page 8)