The Government has had to revert to locking down certain aspects of the economy in order to contain the community spread of Covid-19.
Among the measures announced by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley are making face masks mandatory, and the prohibition on the in-house consumption of food and drinks at restaurants, bars, food courts, malls and their precincts.
“Purchase (the food/drink) and take away to a non-gathering environment,” the Prime Minister advised yesterday at a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.
The new measures will take effect from 6 a.m. tomorrow and will remain in force over the next 28 days.
All places of worship, beaches, gyms, all contact sports, casinos and members clubs, cinemas will be closed, public gatherings will be down to five people, with weddings, funerals and christening gatherings limited to ten, the PM also announced.
Maxi-taxis and taxis will operate at 50 per cent capacity.
The Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam will take place as scheduled on Thursday.
“They (the SEA pupils) will write the exam and go straight back home... as quickly as possible,” the Prime Minister said.
But the school term has been deferred until December 31.
The Prime Minister announced that “all teaching institutions are to remain closed until further notice”.
“It is our intention to close all teaching institutions until this phase is over and it appears at this point that that period of closure for teaching institutions will go until December 31.
“More than likely, we going to have to shut off that first term of the 2020/2021 school year,” he said.
The Prime Minister said he was consulting with the Attorney General on the mandatory wearing of face masks and on bringing legislation aimed at “taking action against those who insist on not wearing face masks in public”.
He said it was necessary to make people more compliant “because we are now convinced that they (who don’t wear masks) are endangering the wider population. Therefore we will cease to rely on suasion and move to having it become an offence to not cover nose and mouth in a public place,” he said.
“And as for those persons who are going around the country defacing walls, writing obscenities, I trust that they would end up in the hands of the police,” he said.
He added that the “lunatic fringe” were advising people that Covid was a hoax and the country didn’t have Covid cases.
They should be ignored, except when they are defacing walls around the city, the Prime Minister said.
He said the Government was also asking members of the public, as far as possible to stay home.
Slowing down of repatriation
of nationals overseas
There would be restrictive travel to Tobago.
And Minister of National Security Stuart Young also indicated the Government would slow down the repatriation process, due to space constraints and the requirement not to have either the formal health care system or the quarantine system overwhelmed.
“Right now we will have to step back a little bit from the grant of exemptions,” Young said, adding the number of people repatriated has always been dependent on the State-supervised quarantine facilities and on not having the parallel healthcare system overwhelmed.
Young expressed surprise that the number of people wanting to come home had increased after having brought home a number of applicants.
He explained that this was so because some people who have been living abroad now want to uproot and return home.
However, he said the Government would continue to give priority to those who were on temporary visits, including the elderly, the sick and those with small children, he said.
With respect to people stuck in T&T who want to get out, Young said anyone who wanted to leave Trinidad and Tobago was free to do so.
However, he noted that one of the difficulties was arrangements for leaving since there were still no commercial flights.
He said for the students who needed to attend school overseas, the Government would arrange flights for them to leave to get to points of transportation either to the United States and even to Barbados.
“But those flights probably are going to have to return empty,” he said.
PM: Govt can’t afford
social costs of shutdown
The Prime Minister said if the Covid numbers get worse, even after all these measures, the next step would be to go into complete shutdown.
Pointing to the high costs of the last shutdown, the Prime Minister said the Government did not want the country to be in this position.
“If that is what we have to do to save lives, we will have to do it, but it may not be with the level of comfort and support that we had in the period before (April to July 31),” he said, adding that limited resources would prevent a repeat of that level of social support.
He appealed to the leaders in the country not to mislead people and come on board in the fight against Covid-19.
The Prime Minister also extended his deepest condolences to the families of the two people who died recently from Covid-19.
In response to a question on a social media post that spoke of a cluster of Covid cases from a group in West Trinidad who were tested privately and were choosing to quarantine at home, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said he had seen the post and would have epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds investigate the matter.
The Prime Minister said it was not logistically possible to know what everybody was doing.
Political gatherings and Covid
Asked whether they had traced any Covid cases to the recent political gatherings during the election campaign, Dr Hinds said he could not say with any certainty whether any of the current cases attended any of these gatherings.
“When we do ask persons where they have been, where they had gathered, I do not recall political gatherings in any of (the answers given). But people are known to withhold information.”
He said the most frequent answer given by people to that question was that they were “home”.
The Prime Minister said he would be surprised if the gatherings over the last two weeks did not contribute to some of the cases.
“There would be no reason why those gatherings would be excluded from any other (sources of transmission),” he said.
In response to another question, Hinds said the feedback from many of the close contact situations where people contracted Covid-19 indicated that there was lax compliance in terms of mask wearing, especially in situations where indoor transmission was noted.
Trinidad has moved from cluster to community spread.
Community spread means a large number of cases are unidentified or are not linked to a cluster, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Pararsam said.
Hinds said the justification for changing the categorisation to community spread, which means cases are turning up in the community, likely was a result of exposure to persons whom “they did not know were ill”.
He advised any person with any mild respiratory symptoms or viral illness to isolate at home or go to a facility to be tested.
Do not attempt to return to work, he said, adding that this was a recurrent feature in some of the cases turning up.
Asked about the Independence Day parades, the Prime Minister said all gatherings that threaten the safety would come under the microscope.
“As of now, that is not a priority,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the Government was trying to prevent a situation where the number of sick people becomes so great that the health system does not have the capacity to deal with them.