By Sue-Ann Wayow
A TRIP to the United States to help take care of her little grandson cost Pearl Henry almost eight months and a US$560 one-way ticket back to Trinidad.
Henry returned to Trinidad on November 12 and is presently in State quarantine.
She is one of the several repatriated citizens who has several concerns with the repatriation process other than the long wait to get approval to return home.
And while she has been practising Covid-19 protocols in the US, Henry who will receive the results from her Covid-19 test on Tuesday, is very much concerned about the results for fear of possibly contracting the virus in transit.
Henry lives in Mt Pleasant, Tobago, and has dual citizenship with the US. She travelled to Baltimore, Maryland, to assist her daughter after her 20-month-old grandson fell and broke his leg whilerunning at a daycare. She left on March 4 with the intention to return on March 29. Borders were officially closed at midnight on March 22.
Henry, 67, upon being informed of the new process for exemptions began applying in July and was in receipt of an acknowledgment only.
There was no further word and she would check in with the relevant authorities almost every week to see if she would be able to return.
Then, without any previous notification, she was informed that her name was on a list of names of persons to return to Trinidad aboard a Caribbean Airlines (CAL) flight from New York, three days before the flight was due on October 31.
But, she was not able to get a departure flight from Baltimore, Maryland to New York in time and had to cancel but she informed the relevant personnel she would be willing to be booked on the next available flight.
Having been prepared from the first notification, Henry was packed and ready to go when she was again informed that her name was on the list to return, this time on a flight from Miami, Florida. She received two days notice and she responded.
She was finally getting home on a flight on November 12. Yet again, she had difficulties coordinating flights from Maryland and had to arrive in Miami, one day early, spend a night at hotel nearby and then head off to board the CAL flight.
And this is where the problems really began to surface for Henry.
She told AZPNews.com, “After shielding yourself for so long to protect yourself from the coronavirus, the government closing the borders to protect citizens, you find yourself in an airplane and there is absolutely no social distancing. You are sitting shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger and yes, we had on our masks but sometimes, you need to take off masks to eat, to drink some water and you could never know what could happen.”
She said, “I asked about the seating capacity for the airplane. I was told 150 and there were 90 people on board. First class was booked out already. There were many empty seats just after the first class section but they bundled everyone to the back of the plane leaving a lot of those seats in front free. ”
Henry admitted switching seats in the aircraft to one of the empty seats to practice her social distancing but was told to return by aircraft workers who told her those seats were available at a different price.
“They gave me no option to purchase any other seat, “Henry said. She did try to get into first class but was told it was booked up.
Upon touching down at the Piarco International Airport, Henry said the journey from the airport to the quarantine facility took four hours and included getting on a bus that was also filled with people and into a building where social distancing protocols were not always followed.
In spite of the hustle and bustle to get to the quarantine facility, Henry said her accommodation, while it was no hotel, was fairly comfortable and she was being treated well by staff.
“I also would like to commend the staff here at the facility for doing a great job in assisting us with the limited resources they have,” Henry said.
She has another concern given that she lives in Tobago. Henry has to self-quarantine while in Tobago for an additional seven days and she was told that no special arrangement was being made for her to return home.
“Now, I am going to be in another transit with more exposure to people and people to me. I do not understand.”
She has a suggestion for the government.
“If government had closed borders to take precautions against this virus, why don’t they have safe procedures for returning citizens.
“The current procedures invalidate the purpose of closed borders. A better solution would be for borders to be reopened with maybe one flight per day at 60% to 70% occupancy for people who have a negative PCR test. Then allow people to do home quarantine. Thus saving the State money, allowing airlines to function and all citizens to come home.”
National Security Minister Stuart Young has said on several occasions that government was attempting to expedite the repatriation process with additional CAL flights to key areas.