Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dennis Moses says there isn’t sufficient reason for Trinidad and Tobago nationals to leave China, and evacuations are not being considered at this time.
This as the death toll from the coronavirus, named Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), rose to over 1,000 yesterday.
Several countries have evacuated their citizens from China, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Speaking at a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in St Clair, yesterday, Moses however, said Government’s advice to T&T nationals in China is to stay put and follow the guidelines of the Chinese authorities.
Asked whether citizens were offered the option to be evacuated, Moses said it was not for the Government to offer but for citizens in distress to request it.
“A person in distress makes the approach; it is not ordinarily that you try to eke out of somebody that they be evacuated,” he said.
He added while evacuation options and possibilities had been explored, none of the 120 T&T citizens in China has expressed any desire to leave.
“The comfort level is such that the determination has been made, if not by all, by the vast majority to stay put at this time,” he said.
He noted this is the position of most Caricom governments regarding their nationals in China.
While evacuation is not being considered at this time, Moses said the Government is continuing to monitor the matter, and this decision may change as the situation evolves.
He however advised that nationals are free to come home on their own.
“Should nationals choose the option of leaving and making their way back to Trinidad, of course, they are welcome. They will not be debarred, but part of that arrangement is they will need to subject themselves to quarantine.”
Praise for Chinese govt
Moses said as of yesterday, all citizens in China were accounted for and in good health, including one national in Wuhan—the epicentre of the outbreak.
“We are very much thankful for that. Up until now, we have had no reports of any difficulty directly linked to the current outbreak of that disease,” he said.
Responding to claims that some nationals had not had any contact with the T&T Embassy or received any assistance, Moses said the embassy’s contact details are widely known and such persons can reach out and provide their names and other details.
“The natural logic in seeking assistance is that persons in distress or in need would make contact. We are not averse to making contact with nationals because foremost in our minds is the welfare of our nationals. We need the names and contact details of the person before we can engage with them,” he said.
However, Moses insisted the embassy had been in contact with all T&T citizens in China every day since the beginning of the outbreak, providing basic information and reassurances.
He praised the efforts of the Chinese government to contain the virus.
“I take comfort from the response the Chinese authorities have deployed and the earnestness at which they have secured the necessary infrastructure to deal with this problem. They are doing a great job of managing the 100-plus citizens in China to allay any fears…. We thank China for making sure the basic needs of our citizens are met,” Moses added.
He said T&T would continue to take measures to protect its citizens, including enforcing travel restrictions.
Xenophobia and prejudices
On Sunday, the MV Caribbean Princess cruise ship was barred from docking in Port of Spain due to an outbreak of gastroenteritis onboard the vessel.
Asked whether T&T was being too cautious, Moses said the protection of citizens is the first priority.
“I think that no adverse reaction or perspective would be garnered from a legitimate and logical reaction for protection of one’s citizens,” he said.
Moses also called on citizens to refrain from making xenophobic remarks against persons of Chinese descent.
“Xenophobia and prejudices should find no place in our discourse at all.
Yesterday, the death toll climbed to 1,018, with some 42,000 confirmed infections, including 395 infections outside of China.
The death toll has now surpassed those killed by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) during the 2003 outbreak that originated in southern China.
Like SARS, Covid-19 is another in a family of coronaviruses that typically cause mild to moderate pneumonia, which can nonetheless be deadly, especially in patients with weak or compromised immune systems.