RENUKA SINGH & RISHARD KHAN
Two more immigration officers have tested positive for COVID-19 pushing the total to 13 and triggering an immediate suspension of the two remaining shifts rostered to man the Piarco International Airport yesterday.
Another 84 immigration officers opted not to go to work but instead have gone into quarantine and are to be tested today.
Two of the positive immigration officers have been admitted to the hospital.
Guardian Media spoke with several workers who confirmed that they are not going to work because of the worrying situation. Instead, they said senior officers contacted health officials who advised they go to health centres which will facilitate and test the immigration officers assigned to the Airport.
On Saturday night, workers said there was one officer on duty and no relief officer was assigned to cover after that shift. A second shift provided relief for that lone immigration officer.
Guardian Media was told that just days ago a flight from Barbados landed at Piarco and officers from the passport offices had to assist with that flight because of the massive short-staffed immigration officers.
In total, 65 immigration officers, 14 immigration officers Grade II and 5 officers Grade III are expected to remain quarantined.
Guardian Media contacted Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh but a female voice answered his mobile and said that Deyalsingh would be busy for the afternoon, she advised Guardian Media to contact Candice Alcantara Manager of Corporate Communications at the Minister of Health.
National Security Minister Stuart Young did not respond to calls or texts. Neither did Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley or Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram.
Guardian Media also attempted to reach Chief Immigration Officer, Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews.
There was no response.
Gandhi-Andrews took her vacation leave this weekend and Guardian Media was told that she received an exemption to leave the country.
Deputy Chief Immigration Officer, Derek Craigwell is acting CIO and even signed off on a confidential internal memo on Friday advising that all rotation of officers was suspended but when asked about the outbreak and subsequent shutdown, he directed all questions to Gandhi-Andrews.
When told that he was the substantive CIO as his boss was on leave, Craigwell said he is not taking over until she is officially on vacation today (Monday).
Last week, Guardian Media reported that 11 officers tested positive and that another 50 were quarantined.
There are approximately 105 Immigration officers at Grade I level.
Last week, Guardian Media learned that Immigration officers are lacking personal protective equipment (PPE) gear and officers describe the delivery as “sporadic.”
The officers complained they are not properly socially distanced. They said they also share booths that are often unsanitised between shifts.
Gandhi-Andrews did not respond to questions then either.
Meanwhile, a senior immigration officer told Guardian Media that the Minister of National Security needs to meet directly with officers because the picture he is being painted by the Chief Immigration Officer, Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews is grossly inaccurate.
“The information that the minister is getting from the Chief Immigration Officer is totally and completely false and misleading as far as the situation at the immigration offices and the state of preparedness goes,” the officer said.
The officer indicated that the minister’s visit needed to be impromptu to prevent any attempts to cover up any inadequacies. The officer outlined that there is almost no personal protective equipment (PPE) for officers to use. The officer said they were often met with hostility whenever they requested the PPE.