Piarco International Airport.

Over 100 Trinidad and Tobago nationals were expected back home last evening, as the Government continued its repatriation exercises for the Christmas period. In fact, over 400 nationals, some of them stranded abroad by the COVID-19 virus since the borders were closed in March, will be back before home before Christmas Day – although they will have to spend the festive season in quarantine.

During a COVID-19 media briefing yesterday, Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards explained that several repatriation flights had been scheduled before Christmas Day.

She assured that the exercises to bring nationals back home will not burden the parallel health care system, as there are available spaces throughout state quarantine facilities.

She said at present, the Ministry of Health had 13 state and state-supervised facilities with two of the facilities being reserved for high-risk populations such as the elderly and persons who may not be able to quarantine amongst typical population.

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Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards

According to Abdool-Richards’ timeline, hundreds of nationals from high and medium-risk countries were expected to be granted border exemptions over the coming days.

“It is important to note that we have three repatriation exercises scheduled for the next 5-6 days. This evening (yesterday), we have a repatriation exercise of approximately 132 persons from New York City. On December 18th, we have another repatriation exercise with persons from Barbados and yet another exercise on the 19th from Miami.”

Abdool-Richards said another exercise has also been planned to repatriate nationals from Canada.

Meanwhile, there is still no confirmation on which COVID-19 vaccine will be procured by the Government despite the fact that it is already making preparations for its arrival. Abdool-Richards said consultations were ongoing over which treatment will be the most effective.

Through the COVAX facility, the Government had allocated US$9 million to secure over 450,000 vaccines. A number of manufacturers have already begun rolling out vaccines but there are particular specifications that must be met before Government makes a purchase.

“The effectiveness of the vaccine will be dependent on the WHO and PAHO’s certification of that vaccine, so in summary, the Ministry of Health will be guided by the WHO for the selection of a vaccine. At present, the Ministry of Health has not ordered any vaccines so that will be dependent on advice for the WHO regarding several factors.”

Abdool-Richards added that there was currently no authorised over the counter COVID-19 test kit. Her comment came as US regulators recently gave the green light for home test kits to be made available on pharmacy shelves without prescription.

In its daily update yesterday meanwhile, the ministry said there were 17 news cases reported over the period December 13-15. This took the number of cases reported since the virus hit these shores in March to 6,917. It added that there were now 564 active cases, 259 cases at state quarantine facilities and 497 people in home self-isolation. The overall death toll remained at 123.