In the post-vaccination world, borders will re-open to travellers from outside—with the exception of certain countries and subject to specific requirements.
In this second summer under the pandemic, we will be restless and chafing against our current border closure regime as large numbers of Caribbean persons want to renew our significant diaspora connections in North America and elsewhere.
Our prevailing stringent border closure regime is one that permits easy exit permission to leave, although there are very limited flights available to the United States, Barbados or Guyana. The devil is in the entry permission, which is currently necessary to return home or to visit Trinidad and Tobago.
The prime minister offered hope that our borders may be re-opened as soon as in the next month. In light of this, it may not be useful now to examine the hardships of the border closure, which debarred citizens from entering their own country—subject to a lengthy queue system to receive permission.
There has been significant emotional and financial trauma as a result of this system. Adding to this trauma is knowledge that the system of entry was sometimes operated to permit privileged entry to some, regardless of official representations. Happily, we have some indication of what should happen now.
It was reported in the Trinidad Guardian on Tuesday last, that the chief medical officer appeared to endorse the combined use of a 72-hour PCR test and vaccination as conditionalities for passengers, once the borders are re-opened.
He reportedly said ‘this along with other factors would be considered as to the decision on if and how long the quarantine period will last for returning passengers once the borders are re-opened. There will still be policies in place in terms of quarantine, so again, those policies will be in place even though you have an open border’.
Reference to journals available on internet indicates that there are variable risks in terms of percentages of a person developing Covid-19 subsequent to a negative PCR test. It is not surprising therefore that the CMO and his team will weigh up what PCR testing and quarantine requirements may be necessary for passengers wishing to enter Trinidad and Tobago.
It is likely that proof of full vaccination will be a requirement for the entry of passengers into any country, unless the passenger wishes to accept quarantine. I am not suggesting that returning citizens should necessarily have to prove vaccination, but that may be a criterion for releasing arrivals from onerous quarantine requirements upon arrival into Trinidad and Tobago.
A full vaccination requirement raises the issues of what brands of vaccines will be recognised and what proof of vaccination should be presented by a passenger. Such proof should be in a trustworthy form.
I noted with interest therefore the further observation of the CMO, in Newsday also on Tuesday last, that those who receive the Covid-19 vaccination must ensure their vaccination cards have the official stamp of the health facility at which it was administered.
But are vaccination cards sufficient documentation? In respect of travel abroad from Trinidad and Tobago, the Ministry of Health and its agencies have in their offices the International Certificate of Vaccination in booklet form, which references on its cover the 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations 2005 (reportedly first adopted in 1969).
One had to obtain a similar booklet in the past certifying yellow fever and other vaccinations, sometimes in order to travel.
In light of WHO practices, my practical advice is that, as soon as possible, the Ministry of Health should make a statement on the advisability and mode of obtaining this international certificate; and state, if it can, what vaccines will be recognised for travel into and out of Trinidad and Tobago.
A government-verified app providing proof of vaccination in the WHO format would be forward-thinking implementation and helpful. We certainly do not want more chaotic scrambles at Health Offices when our borders are re-opened.