THE relocation of 29 COVID-19 patients from the Couva Medical and Multi-Training Facility to a building on Bridge Road, Sangre Grande, led to fiery protest action by residents and a confrontation with police who had to remove them from the road on Friday night.
The residents said they feared they could be at risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus.
After they became aware of the relocation of the patients to a refurbished home for the elderly, people living in the area blocked the road leading to the facility with burning wood, tyres and debris.
At least 15 people were involved in the protest, police said.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith has 77launched an investigation into the incident.
Video footage showing people at the scene of the protest will form part of the investigation, police said.
Following the protest, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) issued a statement saying chairman of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation Anil Juteram was “assisting the police in this investigation”.
It said around 10 p.m. on Friday, officers responded to a report of protest action on the road leading to the facility they said was a “refurbished” home for the elderly.
The protesters were removed by officers while the burning debris was extinguished by members of the Fire Service.
“Commissioner (Gary) Griffith has since launched an investigation into this protest. He made it quite clear months ago, and he is doing so again, that persons would not be allowed to block roads and burn tyres as was done in the past,” the TTPS said.
Contacted by telephone yesterday evening, Juteram confirmed the incident.
He said he was not part of the action, but was instead driving through the area when he observed what was happening.
“I was the one who contacted the police and I stayed there in my van until the Fire Service arrived and put out the fire.
“So what the release said is correct, but I was not taken into custody or anything like that. I am assisting in the sense that I can talk to the residents and make peace,” he told the Sunday Express.
‘Thin line between having
rights, breaching law’
The Police Service said even though people had the right to protest and the right to assemble, those rights could not take precedence or override the laws of the country.
Griffith said police were not attempting to deprive anyone of their rights to protest but there was a “thin line” between having rights and breaching the law.
At the Health Ministry’s virtual media conference in Port of Spain yesterday, both Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram explained that when COVID-19 patients are no longer in need of immediate medical attention and are on the way to recovery, they are being placed at other locations until they have tested negative.
They would then be discharged.
Deyalsingh and Parasram said these locations were carefully selected and no residents of the community would be at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Deyalsingh said the State was taking into consideration both the patients and members of the community.
But Juteram said the residents of Bridge Road were “traumatised” by what they had seen taking place in other countries and were fearful even though they were taking the necessary precautions, the virus could be brought to their doorsteps.
He said no consultation was held with residents about the relocation of COVID-19 patients.
He questioned why Government did not utilise the former Petrotrin facility “and other abandoned Government facilities” to keep such patients.
“This has nothing to do with politics, I want to make that clear, but as councillor for the area, I have to represent the people and properly represent the people of the area,” Juteram said.
He said the majority of people living in the area were elderly and they were the ones who were considered to be at high risk.
“Inside of there is one way in, one way out. School is also closed so you also have children in the community. We don’t know who might try to (leave),” he said.
Griffith: Police won’t
hesitate to act
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said police would not hesitate to act and arrest people in accordance with the Summary Offences Act, Chapter 11:02, Section 64 (1) (n) which says: “Any person who commits any of the following offences in any street is, for each offence, liable to a fine of two hundred dollars or to imprisonment for one month, that is to say, any person who: (n) in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage of any street.”