(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) – Passengers both outward and inward-bound welcomed special flights from Caribbean Airlines yesterday, saying these measures have brought much-needed relief to themselves and their families as countries around the world continue to shut their borders to prevent those infected with COVID-19 from entering their respective countries.
Even more ecstatic were some 80 T&T nationals who returned from Guyana on flight BW3462 just before noon, as they beat yesterday’s midnight deadline in which the country’s borders by air and sea were closed to all passengers.
The surprise announcement of the border closure on Saturday by National Security Minister Stuart Young had heightened the anxiety of nationals abroad who were trying desperately to get home.
Guyana closed its borders last week for 14 days.
Locals who returned from Guyana yesterday were screened by health officials and after being given the all-clear were ordered to spend 14 days in self-quarantine.
While some told Guardian Media they did not want to share their experiences because of fear of being discriminated by fellow employees or even members of their respective communities, others spoke briefly about their time in Guyana and the wait to return home.
Thomas Chanona, the owner of Kee-Chanona Ltd, a regional building contractor, heaped praised on CAL as he expressed his relief at being on native soil once again.
Recounting his experience in neighbouring Guyana, Chanona said, “The Guyanese is aware of it and they are still mingling a lot. Their culture is market and it is risky. I am just glad to be home and even more grateful to Caribbean Airlines.
“Mentally, I am fine because it’s about being aware of what you have to do, like washing your hands and keeping your distance.
“We work in construction, which presents some challenges because it is a very interactive thing, which is working in close quarters with people but we were also sanitising our workplaces and keeping the team aware of their personal hygiene. The concern was if the world is going to be on lockdown we might be away for a long period.”
Another passenger, who identified himself only as Chris and who also returned from Guyana, said he was happy to be reunited with his loved ones, especially his pregnant fiancé.
“I am very relieved. It’s good to be back home,” Chris said, while praising the local authorities for ensuring measures were implemented from the onset.
“I actually think Trinidad is doing a good job. A lot of things on lockdown. I think Guyana still needs to lock certain things down,” Chris said.
“A lot of things are pretty much like normal. We had access to water and food, the market is still open. I don’t think they (Guyana) are practising the separation (social distancing) but we have a lot more cases than them so we’ll see.”
Dionne Ligoure, head of Corporate Communications at CAL, said from very early yesterday the airline mounted special flights in and out to several destinations, including those to Miami, New York and Toronto.
In breaking down the figures, Ligoure said there were 115 passengers to Miami who boarded BW484; 143 passengers to New York who boarded BW524 and 145 passengers to Toronto on BW600.
“This was to ensure that those nationals who were abroad and who needed to return home could do so in a timely manner before the close of international flights to Trinidad and Tobago,” Ligoure explained.
She said all the flights were full, noting that the flight to Toronto comprised both nationals and permanent residents of Canada.
“The US flight may have been a mix of nationals, residents and citizens because there is no restriction from this part of the world into the US and likewise into Miami,” Ligoure noted.
“That flight from Guyana, based on the travel restrictions to Guyana, that flight ferried to Guyana and came back to Trinidad. The Guyanese government is allowing persons to leave Guyana and our restrictions is that only nationals and permanent residents can land in T&T.”
She added CAL had a “very small window” to put all strategies in place but emphasised that the airline will continue to work closely with the public health authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of its customers and crew.
“We have very strict onboard protocols. All persons travelling must wear masks and our operating crews have to use masks and gloves as well,” Ligoure added.