Parliament, on Tuesday, gave bipartisan support to the efforts of the government to repatriate Vincentian sailors stranded overseas as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six days after Opposition Leader Godwin Friday used a national address to call for the nation’s borders to be closed to all but essential workers and returning nationals, he told Parliament that he had spoken to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves that morning about repatriating Vincentian sailors and oil rig workers.
“And I want to say, that we all share the concern of their family members here and certainly, we would wish for them to be able to return home with the necessary guarantees, of course. That is, to ensure that the quarantine measures are in place and that they are properly enforced.”
He said that the efforts must also be made to repatriate Vincentians working on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
“A number of them have called me and family members and they are concerned because some of them, they’re not working; they’re off the rigs and they are in conditions or circumstances that are really not safe for them,” Friday said.
The prime minister then rose and said he was pleased that there was bipartisan agreement on the matter.
“… I’m happy that that is the position also of the opposition that we cannot allow our citizens overseas who would like to return home that like some other countries in the region that you prevented them from coming home,” the prime minister said.
“Citizenship must mean something,” the prime minister further said, adding, “And the protocols are very important to be applied.”
The prime minister said there are in Miami some 200 Vincentians cruise workers from a particular cruise line who would like to come home.
He said he has asked the chief executive of the Port Authority, Bishen John to liaise with that entity cruise line and in conjunction with the Chief Medical Officer and the Medical Officer of Health.
Gonsalves said that his government is supporting, in principle, the repatriation of Vincentian nationals.
“Secondly, those who are on the cruise ships, and the same thing would apply with those from the oil rigs, that the employers would ensure that the COVID tests are done and that those who have a negative test, we verify that independently.”
He said there would then be protocols for these Vincentians to move from where they are to an aircraft for transportation home.
“… because we don’t want persons who are tested negative to be on a plane with other persons who may be tested positive,” Gonsalves said, adding that the same protocols will apply for persons arriving by cruise ship.
“… and that the arrangements be made here which hoteliers, guesthouse owners to have them in quarantined, if even they’re tested negative, because the protocols insist — WHO (World Health Organisation) protocols that you’ll be tested twice thereafter, before you come back into the community.
“That would mean about 21 days, 14 days then the two tests: one immediately after and one, one week after and that they will have to pay for the hotel, the guest house to keep those persons and that they will have to pay for the security. All the arrangements to be made naturally to have the place sanitised and all the rest of it. They’ll work that out with the hoteliers.”
He said he had spoken that morning to Michelle Paige, chief executive of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association.
“I’ve indicated those things to her, as I did last night to someone who called on behalf of Disney,” the prime minister said, adding that there are some 40 Vincentians on a Disney cruise ship off Barbados.
“And we are particularly careful about this because of the seven persons who have tested positive five of them are from cruise ships. So that we have to be doubly sure of what we are doing,” the prime minister said.
Later in his contribution to the debate, Friday acknowledged “the pain of all those persons who have lost loved ones due to this pandemic.
“We all know relatives particularly in New York City who are going through hardship,” he said, adding that this is why he was concerned for Vincentians who came off the oil rig.
“And they are stuck in Houma, Louisiana, which is close to New Orleans, in houses — a numbers of them — and they are, quite frankly, they’re scared; they’re worried and we have to find a way to give them hope to know that if they can get to Miami, there’s some way that we can get them here,” Friday said.