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A bus transports returning students from the UWI Mona Campus, Jamaica, on June 13, 2020.

About 10,000 nationals have sought exemptions to come home and even Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s daughter in New York wanted to return, but she wasn’t allowed or encouraged to do so.

However, exemptions could increase according to what sort of supervised quarantine people agree to have.

Rowley spoke about these situations at a media briefing yesterday.

His briefing followed yesterday’s report by a woman called Joanne Pantin who had tearfully begged for exemption to return home.

He said if there was a way to reach out to that person individually, the Government would find it.

“No one is being abandoned or punished,” Dr Rowley said about people lobbying to return.

“There’s no deliberate policy to trample on anyone’s rights. We’re trying to protect everyone’s life, especially those within T&T’s border.”

He said Government’s response to the COVID- 19 virus emphasised preserving lives. Rowley reiterated exemptions for returns would be allowed on a managed basis so hospital capacity wouldn’t be affected by large numbers entering.

Of the 330,000 nationals overseas, he said 275,000 live in the US. But there is a category of approximately 10,000 who were “outside” when borders closed and may need exemptions.

The majority is from the US.

Government has so far granted approximately 4,515 exemptions but the majority of those haven’t arrived due to transport difficulties, he said.

He added the National Security Ministry, in granting exemptions to the initial number of nationals in Canada, the UK, the Middle East and Europe, asked people if they wished to pay for state-supervised quarantine or if they require state quarantine.

“Depending on the responses, the number of exemptions may increase to allow us to bring certain persons under those conditions,” he added.

This will be on a case by case basis.

Rowley added, “If there are extraordinary situations like the woman who made the video that caused the newspaper headline (yesterday), if there was a way to reach out individually to that person then we’ll find it.”

But he said if he instructed the Finance Minister to send money to her to pay for her room or buy food, then everyone else who had a claim would say, “Look at me too” and accuse Government of preferential or unequal treatment.

Saying Government had to look at the situation as nameless, faceless cases, he added, “There are people out there in hardship. Of course, we understand and empathise, but the policy can’t be who gets on TV first or who cries on TV. You won’t have an effective system. If you say ‘OK’, the next applicant will simply say they’re sick,” he said.

He said, “On the other hand it’s only when you get to the personal levels and you see the pain and hardship, then you begin to think that ‘maybe we should make decisions based on emotion and let everybody come in’ or let (in) people from heavily infected areas in large numbers. What does that do to the policy upfront of (preserving) lives and livelihood?’’

Rowley’s daughter wanted to return

Rowley added, “My daughter in New York wanted to come home. Her sister is having a baby. She wanted to be part of this family matter. But she wasn’t allowed to come—not even encouraged to apply as I know how this would have played out.”

“I lived through the trauma of the New York situation with my daughter in Ground Zero. I have close family members in Texas and California who sit in their homes afraid to come out in the streets—so I understand personally what people are suffering in this matter.”

“While we empathise and sympathise, we do the best we can to minimise the pain of those outside T&T and the borders will have to remain closed,” he said, adding this will be so as long as the outside remains what it is.

He said it was disappointing emotions were being used as the yardstick for how the matter was being viewed.

“Let me tell you, the virus is still there and a danger especially if you have to import people from an area which might very well be the most infected area in the world, we have to be extra careful.”

“It doesn’t take a boatload of people to infect T&T. All it takes is one person, a super spreader.” This week a batch of people will arrive from Grenada. A CAL flight will bring others from Toronto.