More bitter medicine.
As he announced drastic measures, which included the shutting down of roadside vending, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday cautioned that they were absolutely necessary to avoid the unimaginable—the total collapse of the health care system.
Among the stringent measures which took effect from midnight last night is the total shutdown of all non-essential retail outlets. Groceries, pharmacies, hardwares will be the only retail outlets to be open, but their hours have been restricted from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. “In this crisis that is brewing, you could feed yourself at home,” he said at a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.
Acknowledging that people would be affected, the Prime Minister said: “It is not that I love you any less, it is not that the doctors have become ogres. It is because being responsible for your well being, this medicine is bitter and if you don’t take it, the wages of this is death for some people. And for all those who put the economy out front, there is nobody in this country who is more concerned about the economy than the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. But what kind of economy are we going to preserve if the outcome of not intervening now, with economic disruption, results, in economic destruction, in the face of a calamitous health care system and large numbers of people sick, dead and dying. That is the option we face,” he said.
To those persons who may see the measures as “some kind of arbitrariness”, the Prime Minister said: “I hear you because you are still alive”.
Speaking in grim tones, the Prime Minister stated: “I just want to do this job for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. And I have absolutely no qualms in doing what has to be done to protect the lives of the people of Trinidad and Tobago”.
Explaining the decision to discontinue street vending, the Prime Minister said when he announced the closure of bars and restaurants, he did not anticipate the level of replacement, for the convenience of those affected by that restriction (on restaurants and bars), would have resulted in the very thing Government was seeking to discourage, that is, crowd formations.
He urged the private sector, even if it is required to shut down its operations, to pay its employees for that period in the same way that the Government is doing. He stressed that the Government revenues would also be affected by the shutdown.
“It is easy to pick on what we have restricted. But we have a lot going on still. The Government guaranteeing an income to its employees have taken a significant block of employees out of circulation and as such we have left the private sector to also consider essentials there. But if you do, as we expect that you would as responsible people, that you would carry the ones that you have taken off, if only for the short period of time. Make that sacrifice, stop looking at the dollar. Because if you look at that one dollar, it may be a thousand dollars lost later on, because I am sure that the losses would be bigger if we get to the point of a collapse of the national health service and an overrun by the virus,” the Prime Minister stated.
Rowley said those following international news would see how quickly a country could move from a situation of good to bad to woeful. “Nobody, unless they are prepared to challenge the integrity of Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards, Dr Parasram and his team, can say that we do not now know that if we don’t take certain actions, that in a few days time, we will be where others have been...If we do not act in an attempt to stymie the (infection) growth rate we know where that would lead us,” he said, in an apparent veiled reference to India.
“We want you not to come out...Stay home, only for a while. It is not for the rest of your life... If we do this right, we will be able to go back to a situation of greater mixing and working,” he said.
Focus on yourselves, not Venezuelan migrants
On the issue of the migrant population and breaches of the T&T border, the Prime Minister said: “So yes, migrants are a threat to us...so we do everything that is logistically possible to cut that stream off. But, as you know, as fast as you block here, they push there and of course with some local help it is relatively easy to run seven miles across the border. But I don’t want the national population of non-Venezuelans to get a pass by saying ‘it’s the border, it’s the border’ (that is causing the rise in the infection rate)...Statistically that is only a small part of the problem.” He said the spike in the virus was nationwide and it was the national population that was providing the petri dish for the virus.
The Prime Minister said the rhetoric of those telling the population that they would have prevented migrants from coming in might sound good. “But we would have had some difficulty building that dome... (a reference to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s election promise)...And even so it may be that migrants would have got under the dome and come in,” he said, adding that it was extremely difficult unless “you had a North Korea type system in place” to guarantee that nobody comes into your country from outside. “That is so much old talk. We have done very well in the last few months in managing and controlling migration across our border,” he said. And to those who claimed that the border restrictions of his Government were making T&T nationals outside stateless, he cited the case of Australia which has banned his citizens in India from returning home, on penalty of jail or fine.
T&T on restriction list
The Prime Minister also revealed that he received a call from Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness who gave him prior notice “as a courtesy” that sometime “today” (yesterday), Jamaica was going to place Trinidad and Tobago on the restriction list of countries from which persons cannot travel to Jamaica “largely because of our acknowledgement that we have the P1 variant”, also known as the Brazilian variant.
The Prime Minister said this country was in a peculiar geographic location. He said the virus was raging in Brazil which shares a border with Guyana and that people were coming from Guyana, by way of Caricom arrangements into Trinidad and Tobago. “So we should not take a lot of comfort in the fact that if we focus on (Venezuelan) migrants that we will be given a pass for the rest of our population. All over the world there is this virus raging in populations of human beings, without Venezuelans,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the energy sector and manufacturing sectors will remain open as well as essential sectors such as the public utilities sector (T&TEC, WASA etc), transportation sector. He said the same list used last April 2020 to guide which industries will remain open and which would be shut down, will apply.