Trinidad and Tobago’s Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh on Wednesday expressed his disappointment at a front-page newspaper picture that showed several people not wearing a mask in the capital.
Speaking at the Ministry of Health virtual news conference, where it was disclosed that Trinidad and Tobago had now recorded 28 deaths, 1,839 positive cases, including 1,120 being active cases, Deyalsingh said that he was disappointed that people here were not complying with rules and regulations to curb the spread of the virus.
“COVID is asking us as a society to organise ourselves,” Deyalsingh said, warning “to get through COVID-19 it is going to take all of us”.
The Health Minister said that many persons have been complaining of a lack of access to masks, but, using a photo on the Wednesday edition of the Newsday newspaper, he said only four of the 35 people in the photo had been adhering to the new regulations to wear masks in public.
“Clearly is not an ‘availability of masks’ issue, it is a compliance issue,” he said, adding “we have tried moral suasion and many are complying…As of this weekend, we have gone the way of legislation.
“It is not only the wearing of a masks: stop congregating,” he added, noting that those gathered in the photo were clearly in violation of the legislation.
There had been widespread discussion here as to whether or not the Keith Rowley government had overstepped the rights of children when it passed the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2020 that stipulates a fine from as low as TT$1,000 (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) for the first offence to TT$5,000 for a third offence.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi even defended the decision to have children over eight years old be served with a TT$1,000 a fixed penalty notice for not wearing masks in public.
Al-Rawi told reporters that laws compelling children to wear masks have been strongly recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and all countries in the Commonwealth, including some in the Caribbean.
Under the legislation, a child over eight years can be served with a fixed penalty notice for not wearing a mask in public, a vehicle or vessel, unless there is a reasonable excuse for not doing so and the Attorney General said that the government had analysed the situation in many Commonwealth countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
“And in all these jurisdictions, children are treated with. And in some of these jurisdictions, there is no exception for children of any age at all. In Canada they start at two and in others 10, 12 and 13 years of age”.
Al-Rawi said that the WHO had specifically noted that when it comes to children they should be regulated by the laws of different countries.
He said that the WHO’s prescribed general rule is that children under five should not have to wear masks, but the UN agency advises that children over 12, should be dealt with “exactly like they are adults.”
He said children who are fined will be required to appear at their respect district’s Children’s Court accompanied by their parents or guardians.
Meanwhile, Deyalsingh is calling on parents to ensure that their children’s immunisation schedules are maintained even though the new school term will be virtual.
“We are trying to prevent an outbreak of measles and mumps by asking parents to continue their immunisation schedule, even though you won’t be asked for it to re-enter school,” he said, noting that dengue fever was another illness that could spread here particularly during the rainy season.
“We are trying to preserve our public healthcare system. We don’t want to add dengue on top of measles on top of COVID-19,” he said.