Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement of a $10 million allocation to assist bar and restaurant workers who have been financially affected by Covid-19 restrictions has been described as a much-needed measure by the Bar Owners Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BOATT).
Rowley announced the measure while speaking at a news conference in Tobago yesterday.
“We know that there are people who will be personally affected by this,” Rowley said of the ongoing restrictions.
He noted that although bars have been allowed to open to sell alcohol, they have been restricted to a take-away service only in an effort to prevent congregating.
“Unfortunately, we will maintain that restriction because that congregation is the danger. However, we understand what is being said by those who are affected this way, since their business is a business of encouraging congregation... We are restricting them to protect all of us. We need to bear a little of the burden that they are bearing and therefore I have asked the Minister of Finance to find an additional $10 million specifically to treat with employees who work in bars and restaurants and who have lost their jobs or who have suffered a reduction of their income.”
BOATT public relations officer Anil Maraj, who had previously been critical of the restrictions placed on the bar industry, said yesterday that he was grateful for the financial intervention.
“The Prime Minister has exhibited tremendous empathy towards the sector and clearly he understands the need for some form of assistance. It has been eight months that we have been under severe restrictions and closures. So we appreciate the gesture. It is a move in the right direction, it is a start.”
He said BOATT had been asking that bar owners be allowed to apply for the various SME loans and he was pleased that the Prime Minister has agreed.
Maraj, however, called on the Government to pay attention to the public consumption of alcohol and congregating that has been taking place in other sectors and not only focus on the bar industry. “Once that is curbed, I think we will see a drastic reduction in our Covid-19 numbers.”
The PM also announced yesterday that a further $20 million will be allocated for the social services department to assist self-employed people who have been affected financially by the restrictions. This includes vendors who usually sell at sporting events who may have lost income due to the curtailing of such events. He said the Government intends to be “relatively generous” in treating with such people.
Rowley also called upon public servants responsible for the screening and approving of grants to be more empathetic to those who come forward for help. “...I simply ask you, public servants who would be responsible for disbursing these assistance programmes, to be empathetic to the people who come to you. You might make a mistake here or there. And the smart man or the smart woman might get away. But it’s better if the smart man or smart woman to get away than for children to go hungry in our population.” Rowley noted some 5,000 people had been discovered attempting to access salary relief grants under false pretences.
Hunters are also expressing gratitude after Rowley announced the lifting of the ban on hunting. The announcement came following a rally held by dozens of hunters last week, who called for the hunting season to be re-opened, as they believe they pose no risk of spreading Covid-19 in the forest while hunting in small groups.
Rowley said permits will be granted to hunters by this week, as there is no good reason to keep the hunting season closed. He however said the hunting season—normally running from October 1 to the end of February—will not be extended.
Hunting Association of T&T spokesperson Simon De Freitas told the Sunday Express he was grateful and does not have any problem with the season not being extended. “We want to thank Dr Rowley a lot for considering us and allowing the hunting season to open up. We are just thankful that he hears our cries and he really picked sense over nonsense. So we really want to thank him and the Minister of Health.”
De Freitas also distanced himself and the Association from a video circulating on social media showing people dressed in costumes in Times Square in New York, holding up a sign criticising Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh on behalf of hunters.
The sign read “Trinidad and Tobago Terrence Deyalsingh is abusing his powers against hunters! The world is watching.” De Freitas said he saw the video, but had nothing to do with it.
Rowley appeared to address the clip yesterday, saying: “I want those who have come this morning on Facebook with all kinds of dotishness about the Minister of Health, our decision has nothing to do with you. Because as Prime Minister, I will not be swayed by any such behaviour. Our decisions are made against serious analysis and the decision to allow hunters to go back out was done on Friday.”