Minister of National Security Stuart Young continued his criticism of the media today at a press conference to update the public on the country’s battle with Covid-19, as he suggested local journalists were being irresponsible by interviewing citizens stranded abroad who are desperate to return home.
The government shut the borders to all but cargo vessels and special exemptions at 12.01am on Monday—roughly a week after the country was similarly closed to non-nationals. However, over 100 Trinbagonians failed to make it home in time.
Young made it clear that there would be no exemptions to citizens who failed to act quickly enough to return home. However, the Port of Spain North/St Ann’s West MP went further as he appeared to criticise the media for even giving them a voice.
“When we ask everyone to be personally responsible, it must include your friends in the media,” said Young, “because you are the ones at the end of the day, we are hoping, to get the messaging out there. The rest of the population is looking to you the members of the media—we are looking to you, as the government—to get the messaging right.
“I woke up this morning and saw, 3 o’ clock, a story in one of the daily newspapers about Mr Jagdesh Pramsook, who is described as one of the 70—I don’t know how we got to 70—citizens stranded in Margarita who are pleading to come home…
“And this gentleman is using the media here today to sell a story as to why he should be allowed in. Why he should be the one to break the borders and to be permitted back into Trinidad and Tobago.”
Young went on to suggest how he spent the rest of the morning, which seemed to be using his powers as National Security Minister to research Jagdesh Pramsook.
“What [Pramsook] did not tell you is he is a resident of Venezuela,” said Young, who waved an image of Pramsook’s ID card for the public. “What he didn’t say is in 2010, when he applied for his passport in Caracas, Venezuela, under residency and where he lived it was [written] Venezuela. What he didn’t tell you is he had a Venezuelan ID card.
“These are the types of things that are irresponsible. We have shut our borders to protect all of you here, to protect our citizens in Trinidad… The government is going to hold fast to protect the rest of the population.”
Young did not say what Pramsook’s alleged Venezuelan residential status had to do with whether he deserved an ear from the media, or had rights as a Trinidad and Tobago citizen.
And he did not specify who he felt journalists should interview—apart from the government—to be deemed ‘responsible’ in his esteem.
He similarly ridiculed an unnamed journalist for asking whether the Trinidad and Tobago government would help foot the bill for 35 citizens stranded at a hotel in Barbados, after leaving the United Kingdom in a desperate attempt to return home after the borders were closed on Monday.
“I found it a little disappointing to receive a question from a member of the media [asking] whether we in Trinidad and Tobago are going to foot the bill for these people in Barbados,” said Young. “[…] The population of Trinidad and Tobago understand that we didn’t ask anyone to leave Trinidad and Tobago and not come back here.
“[…] We feel empathy for you; but the duty of the government is to protect those here.”
Again, Young did not explain what made the press query invalid and ‘disappointing’.
There was another blast at the media for using the much bandied term, ‘community spread’, incorrectly in describing the first Covid-19 positive case without a travel history.
“For the media to rush out and say ‘community spread’, […] we are asking why,” said Young.
Dr Avery Hinds, director of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Division, was far more helpful to journalists and citizens looking in, as he explained the term.
“When we trace contacts, we have a person who we have identified as a confirmed case or a suspected case, and we are looking at your contacts,” said Hinds. “As long as we can identify a chain of transmission from one person, through primary, secondary, tertiary contacts, then we know where the virus has originated and how it got to the people, who turn up next.
“Community spread is where we start having cases where we do not know how you’ve been exposed—you did not have a travel history, you did not have a known contact history and, somewhere in there, there is a missing link between the importation that would have had to happen and the case that shows up in front of us.
“Spread within an identified chain of contact is not community spread.”
Trinidad and Tobago now has 53 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, after 332 tests. Yesterday evening, the Caribbean Public Health Authority (CARPHA) confirmed the first positive case in Tobago, which is believed to be a Trinidadian who landed in Tobago via an international flight and had been quarantined there.
The second positive is, according to a release from the Ministry of Health, ‘a primary contact of an existing recently imported case’.