Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley is expected to outline new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) later on Saturday after Trinidad and Tobago recorded its highest number of deaths linked to the virus on Friday.
Rowley is due to address the nation at 2.30 pm (local time) one month after his administration had imposed several new measures including the mandatory wearing of masks, further reduction in the number of people who could congregate and a ban on several contact sports.
The Ministry of Health on Friday night said that the death toll had reached 50 after seven cases were recorded during the past 24 hours.
It said that the latest deaths were people with underlining medical conditions and that 2,825 persons had now tested positive for the virus with 2,013 being active cases.
Among the victims is 45-year-old businessman Cedric “Burkie” Burke whose relatives have already indicated that they intend to petition the High Court to have an independent autopsy confirm his cause of death.
The Ministry of Health has in the past stopped autopsies for anyone who died from virus as it is against best practices since it is believed that the virus can spread from a deceased host. The bodies are also disposed of quickly as part of the best practice.
Burke gained national attention as a “community leader”, when he attended the swearing ceremony at the official residence of the President for former government minister Marlene Mc Donald, who was subsequently dismissed.
On Friday, she described Burke, the father of 17 children as a “dedicated man” adding “we have lost a good supporter in Mr Burke.”
The address by Prime Minister Rowley also follows a High Court ruling on Friday that the regulations made by the minister fell within the scope of what was permitted under the public health ordinance.
But Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh ruled that making a breach of the guidelines for places of worship a criminal offence is unlawful. He said there were alternative treatments he could pursue.
The judge handed down the ruling two constitutional claims that challenged the validity of the coronavirus public health regulations.
One of the claims was brought by Pundit Satyanand Maharaj and another by five men who were arrested at a guest house during an alleged COVID-19 party on April 9 and later charged with breaching the regulations.
Justice Bodoosingh said while the regulations made by the minister fell within the scope of what was permitted under the public health ordinance, making the breach of the health ministry guidelines a criminal offence is outside of the ambit of the powers given to the minister under the ordinance.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said he was awaiting the advice of his legal team to decide whether he should appeal that part of the judgment, and said he could be “prescriptive” with respect to the regulations.
“I can build into the body of the regulations certain aspects I wish to treat with and then select, out of them, certain points. You have to remember that that judgment came in relation to previous regulations. So those regulations, we have moved past as to some of the matters, we’re now on Regulation 27.
“So the judge’s observation doesn’t necessarily cause me too much concern because we’re now at a stage where the experts can advise as to what aspects they wish to put into the regulations, as opposed to the guidelines, and then the regulations, the aspects that go there, I can treat with criminal offences and the guidelines I can treat with other arrangements.”
In a statement, Al-Rawi said the High Court agreed with him that the regulations have been and continue to be properly made under the Public Health Ordinance, which is a constitutionally saved law, and expressly endorsed the fact that the decisions made by the State have been taken on the basis of scientific expertise.
“The Court was of the view that the Guidelines did not infringe on the constitutional right to freedom of religion, and that the practice of religion must at this time adapt to societal needs,” he said, adding that he would also be appealing the award of costs made by the judge.
But he said that the ruling was a major victory for the government, as it upheld the constitutionality of its approach to the regulations.
“What is ultimately the gravity of that judgement is that it rubbishes the UNC’s (Opposition United National Congress) approach. If you look at what Dinesh Rambally, Wade Mark, Saddam Hosein, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, what they’ve all said on the Parliamentary record repeatedly is that the government should bring the regulations to the Parliament and that the Parliament should be the place to make those regulations.
“They, through their attorneys, challenged the constitutionality of the regulations and the judge’s decision upholds not only the propriety of the approach that we took, to use these regulations and do them without Parliamentary reference, but he upheld the constitutionality of the regulations, he upheld the fact that this is the way you create law in the most nimble fashion to meet a pandemic, so everything that I have been saying as AG in answer to the Opposition has been confirmed,” the Attorney General added,
Meanwhile, former vice president of the International Football Federation (FIFA) Austin Jack Waner has said he does not wish the virus for even his worst enemy.
Warner, who is recovering in hospital from the virus, said in a statement “many times, in the quietude of the night, I lay on my bed thinking about my family and friends; this unfortunate circumstance called COVID -19 which has deprived them of visiting my bedside and then I read the messages, the texts of consolation, listen to the voice notes that were sent to me and I am humbled, tears come to my eyes because I realise that I am not alone.
“In gratitude, I pray and thank God for all of you beautiful human beings with enormous hearts full of compassion,” Warner said, adding that “I spend my days praying, seeking God’s forgiveness to those I may have wronged and living with the hope that very soon this COVID-19 will pass not only for me but for the many who continue to suffer locally and abroad.
“I must take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the people of Trinidad and Tobago who took the time to text and even call to find out about my condition, having been affected by COVID-19.
“The outpouring of love and concern by people from all walks of life really caught me by surprise and for that, I wish to say a special thanks for the caring of which I am still the recipient,” said Warner, who is fighting extradition to the United States where he is wanted on fraud-related charges linked to his role as a senior FIFA official.
The 77-year-old former government minister said “it dawned upon me that in spite of the many who attempt to divide us, caring for each other is embedded deep within our psyche and for that, I will always be perpetually grateful.
“Because this is not the journey I would wish upon my worst enemy. Had it not been for your prayers, only God knows what my fate would have been but we have always been a praying nation and for that I am grateful and for that, I wish to say thank you to one and to all.”