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Italian Chef Christian Grini

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He was expected to return to Trinidad two days ago after visiting his family in Italy. But popular executive chef Cristian Grini is stuck in his homeland in Italy and cannot come back to Trinidad and Tobago anytime soon because of heightened coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions globally.

Speaking to Guardian Media via Whatsapp yesterday, Grini said while he did not want to trigger any paranoia, he felt it was important for the Government and Opposition in T&T to get together and advise citizens about what to do to prepare for the virus.

Grini is the chef and owner of Port-of-Spain’s popular Buzo Osteria Italiana restaurant. He said when he arrived in Italy a week and a half ago, he did not expect to see restrictions heightened so drastically.

“I am in Central Italy and pretty much everywhere is the same. All of Italy is the red zone,” Grini said.

“The majority of stores are closed. It’s mandatory to stay closed. Only the pharmacy and supermarkets are open. Everyone has to stay at home. They are trying to minimise human contact so they can get this crisis under control.”

Grini said what is happening in Italy could very well happen to the United States and England within a matter of weeks.

Saying he could very well end up being stuck in Italy for a month or as much as six weeks, Grini said it all depends on how fast the situation is brought under control.

He said currently, no one could travel freely in Italy.

“Germany, France is on lockdown, I can’t fly to England either. My regional flight was from London to Miami, which is now not possible because (US President Donald) Trump has closed off all flights from Europe to the United States, so that made it very difficult now,” he said.

“Maybe the one option could be Canada. I am looking at options but right now we cannot leave the city because anywhere you are, you need a special permit to drive. If anyone is sick, or if you have to go and look after someone you can get a permit to drive. Other than that you have to stay where you are.”

Asked if he wanted local authorities to make special provisions for him to return to Trinidad, Grini said this may not be possible.

“I am obviously looking forward to getting back home but it is impossible. I think it is out of their (T&T Government) hands. There are so many restrictions here and you can’t travel around and cannot leave your own town. The airport is two hours away from here. I cannot fly to London or France or Germany. I’m stuck,” he said.

Grini said if the pandemic spreads to T&T, where the first case was announced yesterday, schools and business places could be forced to shut down but he said he remains hopeful that things do not get out of hand.

He explained that food and pharmaceuticals were fully stocked in Italy primarily because Italy produces everything. However, with T&T being heavily dependent on imports, Grini said the situation may not be the same. However, he advised citizens not to become paranoid.

“I don’t think Trinidad have the time for parties and government ministers to fight over themselves. They have to make sure that everyone is safe. The present Government has to liaise with the Opposition and for once in their lives, instead of fighting, battling, they have to find a point or solution that will be best for the population in Trinidad,” Grini said.

“They have to make sure that we are ready for it. Hospitals and health centres need to be ready. We have to take care of older people. Coronavirus gets everyone sick and some may need ICU. I think we should be ready and make sure that no one is panicking.”

He said people must also be educated.

“Government has to think smartly and advise the country on how to handle things, how to shop around, how much distance you should keep. There is no need to shake hands or be hugging people right now. Be sensitive but not make everyone paranoid to the point that they stop doing everything,” he added.

He said it would also be wise to buy extra groceries and supplies.

While the coronavirus has the potential to wreck economies, Grini said putting people’s lives first was what was most important. Italy has more than 12,000 confirmed cases and a death toll of 827.