As of midnight Sunday, Trinidad and Tobago will enter a new level in its fight to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The announcement was made this afternoon by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during a post Cabinet press conference in Port of Spain.
“From Sunday night, stay home” Rowley said, a day after the country recorded its first COVID-19 death.
A total of 61 people have also tested positive for the virus.
And if you don’t, he said, both police officers and soldiers will be enforcing the new plan.
Law enforcement standing by
Rowley said: "The Attorney General and others will tell you which laws are going to be enforced. The Minister of National Security and his security teams, the Commissioner of Police and his men and women are standing by to enforce the quarantine law and all others. We are at the stage now that joke is joke, but this is no joke”.
He said, “Those people in this country who figure this is a joke, this is about life and death, and your foolishness will not be tolerated. Your responsibility is required and will be extracted. “
The country cannot be switched off
He said: “The virus demands that we do more. I am announcing here today that from Sunday night, midnight from Sunday night, we will deepen our separation by having non-essential activities forbidden. Any activity that can be deemed to be non-essential… the Minister of National Security and the Minister of Health by tomorrow will put a list out there for what is deemed to be essential. “
He said “When you say lock down the country, meaning that we should just shut it down, the country is not a light bulb where you just flick a switch and lock it down. Every single person who is engaged in the health sector, not just the ministry of health, the health sector, is required to be on station. So the State workers need to go to work, the private sector workers need to go to work to keep the health sector (running). If you lock down the health centre, well we drop the white flag to the virus. But we are fighting…the white flag stays down. The health has to stay up”.
He said: “We also have taken steps to provide support in the social sector. Our arrangements for various institutions have to stay in place to respond. If we shut down the social sector, who is going to provide the social support? Who is going to run the social support system for those people who are relying on the social support system? You can’t lock that down. You can’t shut that down.”
He said of the social support system ”we have to ramp that up. The Minister of Social Development has just confirmed that her ministry is taking steps to move On-the-Job-Trainees to that ministry to help in the management of what we have taken on, which was not the normal workload of the ministry”.
The Ministry is attempting to provide relief to at least 80,000 people affected as a result of the pandemic.
Public utilities must function
He said “The utilities also have to stay functioning. We need T&TEC to keep our power on. We need WASA to keep our water on. TSTT to keep our communication on. Three essentials. They have to stay on board…they even have to do extra, because this situation is calling for all of us to walk that extra mile.”
‘The health sector delivery and supply from the private sector, they have to stay. They have to be on board”.
He said that although the borders were closed to incoming passengers, the airport and seaports had to remain open and functioning because “our food has to come in by air and by sea. Cargo has to come in so the Customs and Immigration has to be at work still. There is a huge chunk of the country that still has to function, as a response to the virus”.
Regarding talk of a lock down by the Opposition, Rowley said the term was being use as a “fashion statement for some who want to get into the act. But for the government, we are not dealing with a fashion statement. We are dealing with well thought out, well organised responses, understanding that some people are required to be out and some are required to be in. Those who are required to be out will be deemed to be the essentials. We still have to produce. The private sector is required to produce to feed us. So the food and market sector is required to be out there. We are going to categorise it is such a way that we identify a large block the population that is not essential, and if you are not essential, from Sunday night, stay home.
Rowley said: "
He said “If you are going out, it is part of the essential arrangement. Essential to get food, essential to get medicine. Pharmacies will be open…so it is essential versus non-essential. You see this liming and congregating? The police will enforce the law. You see this lack of common sense or the don’t-give-ah-damn? The police will enforce the law with the full support of the Defence Force. So expect that! We are telling you that today. It comes into force on Sunday night. There is no need to over rush. We know that you will move to make arrangements because you know what is coming. If you have to go out to work to do these things in the essential sector, make the arrangements.”