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Stuart Young

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

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National Security Minister Stuart Young says his ministry is currently in talks with the Health Ministry to settle the policy that will allow for mass exemptions to be granted to citizens stranded abroad by the lockdown of the border due to COVID-19.

“We are currently settling the policy with Ministry of Health. In the meantime, exemptions are being granted on an increased basis,” Young said when contacted yesterday for an update.

Young’s statement came five days after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced last weekend that he (Rowley) would meet with Young to discuss mass exemptions. At that time, Rowley said with the Ministry of Health’s change of policy to allow COVID-19 positive patients with mild or no symptoms to self-isolate at home, the Government’s case to keep stranded nationals out of the country due to health safety issues was significantly reduced.

“After eight months, we really need to close this chapter in a more effective way to those persons who have been on the outside who have been very patient, we need to bring them home as quickly as we can but we do have transportation issues,” the Prime Minister said on Saturday.

However, up until noon yesterday, only one member of the group T&T Citizens Overseas, which was set up on Facebook as a support system for Trini nationals stranded abroad, reported being granted an exemption.

Joanne Pantin, who is stranded in Orlando, is still waiting for her exemption and described the ongoing situation as ‘cruel.’

“It’s been five days since hearing that podcast from the PM and nothing happening. This stirs so much anxiety and fear. Sleepless nights. Can’t eat. We are hurting emotionally. Can you help us?” she asked.

She referred to a plan created and shared by former medical chief of staff at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital, Dr Karen Sohan-Seenath, for the accelerated repatriation of citizens.

Another citizen, who is a medical doctor stranded in India, said he appealed to the Government to let him come home to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

“I came to India along with my wife and got stranded here. Was supposed to return and work from May 1st, 2020. We are unable to return since then and numerous attempts to email MONS were in vain. We would like to return and do our part being doctors to help my fellow colleagues as there is a shortage of staff,” he said.