PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Trinidad and Tobago government Wednesday announced the closure of primary schools but insisted that the country was not facing an outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) even as it prepared for a general election on August 10.
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, speaking at a news conference here, said that following discussions with the health sector experts, it was agreed to shut down the primary schools from Thursday, after some pupils had been in contact with positive cases resulting in the closure of at least nine schools contacting tracing and cleaning.
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley at news conference (CMC Photo)
“We took firm decisions using the science and the data and we continue so to do. And of course if there comes a point where we believe that the risk requires a certain response…then at that point we will make the decisions as we made in the beginning.
“But now we are not there. But, there some things we have been doing which have increased the risks which are not comfortable with,” he said, noting “we had our children home for a number of weeks, away from school, away from mixing with the national population…
“We understand the difficulty in getting children to stand within the protocol at the school environment especially small children, but we also had the requirement as we said this is about life and livelihood and we could add to that educational progression.
“So life wise we stay home, we stay away….and we brought our SEA children out to prepare themselves for an exam that is important with respect to the movement of our children,” Rowley said, adding that based on the data “we took the decision that we would not continue with that experiment of bringing those SEA students out.
“The decision that I have taken is that we will discontinue at this stage from tomorrow those children will not go back out to have classes at school and we expect they will do at home what they were doing before….for the exams on August 20 because we will remain committed to having the exams.”
The SEA is a government exam sat by children aged 11 to 12 as part of the admissions process for all public secondary schools. The SEA was introduced in 2001, to replace the older Common Entrance exam.
Rowley said he was “disappointed’ in the earlier statement by the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) calling on all teachers to stay away from classes until school reopens in September.
He said while he understood the position of the teachers, unilateral positions by unions representing workers, some of whom are on the frontline, would defeat the national policy in dealing with the efforts to prevent the spread of the disease.
“When we say we are all in this together we mean everybody and any decision made is made for everybody and it is not helpful if persons in leadership positions believe that they are not going to accept what the country is doing because they are prepared to protect themselves better than anybody else, especially at the personal level where we are not seeing that commitment by some people were it is required as the protocol to deal with the virus”.
The Ministry of Health Wednesday reported that three new cases had been reported over the past 24 hours bringing the total to 197. There have been eight deaths, since the first case was reported in March.
“There is no raging virus,” Rowley told reporters, noting that the emphasis now was on the management of the risks involved in the spread of the virus.
He said the virus is likely to be around for a long time “until a vaccine is found to vaccinate the lage population of the world.
“Basically what we are required to do after the first reaction is to live with the virus. Some people are living with it in an uncontrolled way. There are countries with far more resources that we have, who are not even attempting to do contact tracing….because the numbers are too large to attempt contact tracing….”
“In Trinidad and Tobago we have a structure and that is working well for us. While you would have heard the Minister of Health saying a couple of days ago there is no raging virus in Trinidad and Tobago. The virus is not raging out of control. We are able to identify and pick up, we know that the virus is in the population as it rears it head we are able to treat with it and so far the majority of the cases and the numbers…are people where we have found the contacts”.
Rowley again urged political parties into the last weekend of the campaign to ensure that their supporters are fully on board with the various measures to curb the spread of the virus, adding “put health protocols first.
“There are to be no gatherings to celebrate,” he said,, pleading “ do not congregate, election victory or not, do not congregate”.