Trinidad-Tobago government hopes to re-open borders in a few weeks

Keith Rowley

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Trinidad and Tobago government said on Saturday that it hopes to re-open the borders within the next four to six weeks as the country acquires more vaccines to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has so far killed 556 and infected 25,801 others in the country.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, speaking at a news conference, said that discussions will be held with officials of the state-owned Caribbean Airlines (CAL) regarding the resumption of scheduled flights from the country’s two main international airports. The airline has been virtually grounded since the borders were closed in March 2020.

“Just as we were in mid-March (this year) to do something about the border closure, we had that discussion yesterday and I hope to get a better result this time,” Rowley said, noting that a team, including the ministers of health and national security and CAL representatives will meet next week.

“In the coming days, probably on Tuesday, the team….would meet with Caribbean Airlines because it is the government’s position that within the next four to six weeks we would do away with the border closure arrangement and exemption system because as we vaccinate and as vaccination has been accelerated in North America in particular, the situation is different now.

“The populations of North America and the Caribbean can now more easily mix and we are better able to manage people coming into the country and I look forward to the day when nobody will have to ask permission to come home,” Rowley said.

He said entry would be based on persons qualifying “to get in under certain circumstances which are your responsibility and not for the government to tell you nay or yeah and those details will come to you in the next few days.

“By the end of next week you will get the clear details as to what the open airport will mean and Caribbean Airlines will begin scheduled flights and persons coming into the country should be of the same ilk as to those who are coming to us from outside …but there will be controls and there will be the categorization of your condition.

“I say no more on that today, except to indicate that we are close to the point of removing the exemption border closure arrangement and of course removing the taxpayer from being responsible for funding Caribbean Airlines 100 percent while they don’t fly. Hopefully, that will change very soon,” Rowley said.

He told reporters that the lockdown, which includes a state of emergency and a curfew had been “working well” and in this regard for the month of June there will be adjustments to some of the measures that had been put in place given that the health authorities were reporting a “slight” decline in the number of COVID cases.

Rowley said that the curfews on the weekend will now begin at 7.00 pm (local time), two hours earlier until 5.00 am.

“For the month of June as we brighten our perspective with vaccine being available….and things are getting a little bit better going in the right direction…I want to ask you to postpone the expected weekend mixing and the weekend automatic partying and the weekend automatic liming.

Rowley added that the curfew would begin at 7.00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

“That is how it will be for the month of June. Weekends are to be contributed to our efforts and during the day time it is not a free up party because there is no curfew on the daytime. The order is to stay away unless you are categorized to come out, and that means you come out to work hugely aware of the need to work during a pandemic.

“It is our intention to vaccinate and operate. Going forward from next week you will be encouraged to vaccinate and operate and in order to do that the Ministry of Health will have specific programs interfacing with the private sector,” he said, urging the private sector to get its members vaccinated.

During the news conference, Rowley said that it is the intention of the government to have a full vaccination program in place over the next 12 weeks, as the country acquires vaccines.

He said he is hoping that by September 1, “our target being when the schools open in mid-September we should be in a far better position and be more of a vaccinated population”.