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The Enchanment of the Sea cruise ship sails into Invaders Bay, before heading to dock at the Cruise Ship Complex, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain last Friday.

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While quarantined nationals aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Enchantment of the Seas are upset that the Ministry of Health took away their daily exercise period, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh says quarantine facilities are not home.

Responding to the complaints during yesterday’s virtual COVID-19 update, Deyalsingh said personnel moved crew members to larger staterooms so that each person can have more space. He said he understands the hardship they are facing but said the ministry is trying to preserve their lives. “It is a quarantine facility; it is not your home, unfortunately,” Deyalsingh said.

“Quarantine means that there will be some restriction to movement. We understand the psychological trauma because they have gone through hell and back. They have been out at sea, in some cases for two months, a month and a half. We understand all of this but we are fighting a global pandemic ladies and gentlemen. I think this gets lost in the advocacy to loosen up things.”

The nationals on board said yesterday that when they began the 14-day quarantine period they were allowed on the open deck twice daily for 45 minutes to exercise. This activity was highly regulated by ship officials as they were escorted in small groups and mandated to abide by physical distancing protocols, had to wear masks and were not allowed to congregate.

On Tuesday, however, ship officials informed the crew that the ministry called for the cessation of this activity, citing concerns about the physical distancing protocol. “I find it appalling that the Ministry of Health would think that it is advisable to keep anyone locked in a room 24/7 for an extended period with no fresh air and limited ability to exercise. The rooms are very small and do not allow for much activity. There are crew members onboard who are hypertensive, striving to manage their weight, or otherwise struggling just to stay sane in this situation,” one crew member who did not want to be identified said. “Studies show that among other benefits, fresh air cleanses your lungs, boosts your immune system and elevates your serotonin levels. And we all know that daily exercise is widely recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle. It is inhumane and counterproductive to overall health and well-being (mental and physical) to mandate that crew members stay in their rooms 24/7 for the next nine days, breathing only recycled air while we finish the rest of the quarantine period. Even prisoners get daily yard time.”

But Deyalsingh said this was for their safety, especially as six crew members were taken off the ship over the weekend after testing positive for COVID-19. Those crew members are now at the Caura Hospital.Deyalsingh said if there is any spread of the virus aboard the ship it will extend the quarantine time. According to the ministry’s protocol, if health personnel find a positive case during the quarantine period it resets from the time the infected person leaves.“It means they cannot go home sooner. We know this is difficult. I cannot imagine what these people are going through,” he said.

“We appreciate their need for advocacy and to contact the media and for you to advocate on their behalf. As a responsible Minister of Health, it is our policy to not encourage people on the cruise ship or any other quarantine facility, especially where six positive cases came out of, to have unfettered communication with each other or physical contact to wander around the cruise ship. It is for their own good and to make sure they can get off that facility as early as possible and go back home and lead as normal lives as possible. It is a difficult situation.”He said mental health counselling is available to those in need.

Meanwhile, some 67 nationals returned home yesterday by air and sea and were immediately quarantined at step-down facilities.

A batch of 49 workers who were working in the Gulf of Mexico returned home via a VivaAerobus flight around 4 pm. After being processed at the Piarco International Airport the workers were taken to the Kapok hotel in Port-of-Spain for their 14-day quarantine.

Another 18 nationals who were working on various Norwegian Cruise Line ships arrived off T&T’s coast yesterday morning and after being processed were taken to the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Debe campus to serve their quarantine.

According to one of the returning nationals, they were pooled together from their various vessels and brought into T&T waters aboard the Oceana Marina. The workers were processed at the Cruise Ship Complex after being brought ashore before being whisked away to Debe.