PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Trinidad and Tobago government Saturday announced a series of new measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which in recent days had pushed the island into the category of “community spread”.
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley told a news conference that the measures had become necessary and the government is also warning about the possibility of a second lockdown of the country, if the new measures that go into effect from Monday for a 28-day period, do not result in a curtailment of the spread of the virus.
“The overall aim of these measures are to reduce public gatherings. The economy will remain open, people will be required to work as necessary,” he said, adding “all of these actions are aimed at reducing the gathering of people in places where they would normally be exposed to gathering.
“We have looked at the whole spectrum and we have decided these are the actions in the population that create congregation beyond the levels we are comfortable with and we have taken them all out, but we have left the rest of the activities to continue but under strict observation”.
Medical officials Saturday reported that 79 new cases had been reported pushing the total to date to 497 with 10 deaths and that the decision to classify Trinidad and Tobago as a community spread nation is as a result of there being a large number of cases not linked to a cluster.
They said that the new cases are not confined to any one geographical area.
Prime Minister Rowley told reporters that as of Monday, all in-house dining at restaurant and bars, food courts and malls have been suspended with only pick up services, all beaches and rivers closed as well as all places of worship, gyms and fitness centers.
He said all contact sports will stop and waterparks closed, as well as casinos and members clubs, and cinemas.
In addition there will be no gatherings of more than five people permitted, and weddings and funerals, christenings will only allow for a maximum of 10 people.
Rowley said that all public transport will function at 50 per cent capacity and that all travel to Tobago will be on an essential basis.
All teaching institutions are to remain closed until further notice, likely until December 31. The Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) will be held on schedule on August 20.
Rowley said that discussions are being held with the Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi on the possibility of legislation to ensure the mandatory use of face masks and to be actioned within 48 hours. The government is also examining the possibility of introducing legislation that would allow for persons not wearing masks to be fined.
“We are now convinced that they are endangering the wider population and therefore we will cease to rely on persuasion and move to having it become an offence to not be covered nose and mouth in a public place,” Rowley said, adding “while we may not be able to pick up everybody and fine everybody, the law will be put in place so that you will be at the discretion of law enforcement.
“Of course you can avoid it completely by simply doing what we have been asking you to do for three months. We cannot now continue to allow significant proportion of the population to be unmasked when we do know that in managing the virus…the wearing of face masks is a useful and effective tool in helping us to restrain the movement of the virus from one person to another”.
The government said that members of the public are urged to o stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
“This is a very serious situation,” Rowley warned, adding “if these activities, if they do not get the level of observance as we expect and the numbers get far worse, even after we have done this, the next situation is to go into more complete closure.
‘You would recall when we went into a lockdown the kind of costs that was involved from unbudgeted expenses, largely from borrowed money that we used to fund the period of lockdown. The last thing that we want now is to find ourselves in a situation where the prescription for response that is required is a prescription that tells us we should go back into a lockdown,” Rowley said.
“But if that is what we have to do to save lives we will do it but it will not be with the level of comfort and support we had in the period before because there are limited resources within the national community and we have used up significant portions of that during that period of lockdown.
“So it behoves every one of us to try and avoid that situation,” Rowley added.