The Government of Guyana through the collaborative efforts of the National COVID-19 Task Force, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Health and the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has brought home 2,006 Guyanese including students who were left stranded overseas as a result of the closure of airports, in an effort to combat the spread of the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
This number is expected to increase over the coming weeks as the Government continues to broker agreements for repatriation flights, which would see more citizens being able to return home.
Thus far, there have been flights from New York, Miami, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Canada, St. Maarten, Jamaica, Suriname, Grenada and Curaçao.
Chief Executive Officer of the National Task Force Secretariat, Mr. Joseph Harmon said the Government is cognisant of the challenges citizens face while they are stranded overseas. He noted that while the Task Force has been taking measures to ensure Guyanese at home are safe and the numbers of infected persons are minimised, it has also been working assiduously to ensure that persons who were left stranded, could return home during this difficult period.
“While we have been working to ensure that Guyanese at home are taken care of and remain safe during this period, we have also taken stock of the number of persons who were left stuck or stranded in different parts of the world. Some were without financial and other support, while others had family emergencies and other situations that they would have liked to be there for. So, we have decided that we must get our citizens home, but in a manner that still ensures we follow all the necessary protocols and does not jeopardise the health and wellbeing of any one or everyone,” he said.
Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Lieutenant Colonel (ret’d) Egbert Field, in an invited comment, said the GCAA has been working around the clock to ensure that citizens are presented with an opportunity to return home while reducing the risk to other travellers and Guyanese at home.
“We work in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Health. We would decide on a location and then set a date and time. Once we have decided on that, we make contact with the appropriate airline. Depending on the location, we decide whether it is going to be airline ‘A’ or airline ‘B’ . For instance, for North America, we can call upon Eastern Airlines and for the Caribbean, there is Caribbean Airlines. We then have to look at the paperwork for the aircraft to ensure they have all the appropriate systems in place. Once that has been settled, we must then look at the list of applications and ensure every person has a valid PCR test before they can be placed on the approved list to travel,” he explained.
Colonel Field noted that the GCAA works closely with the Ministry of Public Health to ensure that the PCR tests are genuine and valid before passengers are given the go-ahead to travel. He noted that once this is done, the approved list is then sent off to the airline. The airline must then make contact with the approved persons so they can purchase their tickets.
“The airline cannot sell a ticket to anyone outside of that approved list because everyone on that approved list would have gone through a process to ensure they are safe to travel. That is why we have such a stringent system in place. It is to ensure that someone cannot just go and purchase a ticket without undergoing the health and other checks that are in place. We have to ensure every citizen is safe guarded,” he said.
Meanwhile, incoming passengers, many of whom have been stranded overseas since March, said they were happy to be home albeit the world is still grappling with daily increases in the number of recorded cases.
Mr. William Wilson, who arrived from a Caribbean Airlines flight out of Trinidad and Tobago said, “It has been a very stressful time but I am very happy to be home.”
Ms. Pennyann John was slated to return home since March 24, 2020. On her arrival at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), she said, “It is so good to be back home. I feel so happy to be home. I was just out for two weeks in March and the borders closed and I have been away for all this time. It was rough time, but I am so pleased to be back home.”