Rowley: Black lives movement relevant in T&T too, sets re-opening dates for churches, bars and cinemas

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago will be back to ‘80 percent of its functionality’ by 22 June, as the country gets back to business—having flattened the curve of Covid-19 infections.

However, Rowley said the threat of racism remains a real concern in the wake of ‘black lives matter’ protests in the United States of America, over the killing of unarmed, handcuffed ‘black’ American Floyd George at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

Photo: An image of riots in Minneapolis sparked by the police slaying of George Floyd.

Rowley pointed out that the ‘black power’ rallying cry of the United States’ Civil Rights era reverberated all the way to Port of Spain; and, within months, the Trinidad and Tobago government was moved to call a state of emergency for the first time—to deal with protests in 1970.

“These rights have to be fought for on a continuous basis,” said Rowley. “Like a garden with weeds with deep roots, even as you mow the weeds, ever so often there is a regroup and new shoots can reappear.

“[…] The fear that we have today is we seem to have a new normal that is developing, where the higher values that we thought we were ascribing to and the gains we thought we were making could be so easily lost.”

In the past week, a string of prominent citizens were criticised for insensitive or racist remarks. Michael Patrick Aboud, Gerald Aboud (Starlite Pharmacy), Dianne Hunt (Dianne’s Tea Shop) and England-born former national footballer Chris Birchall offered apologies for their own remarks. Michelle Sohan (Bakery Treatz) and Shabania Carter (ME marketing essentials owner and the girlfriend of current UK High Commissioner Tim Stew) gave very qualified apologies or none at all.

Hunte is the sister of former PNM Minister of Sport Gary Hunt while Birchall, along with his Soca Warriors teammates, received the Chaconia Medal (gold) national award, TT$750,000 in UTC units and TT$250,000 cash for his role in Trinidad and Tobago’s successful qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Chris Birchall (right) tangles with Sweden attacker Freddie Ljunberg during the 2006 World Cup in Dortmund, Germany.

Rowley disagreed with those who suggest that ‘black lives matter’ is irrelevant in our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society.

“Trinidad and Tobago ought not distance itself from what is happening outside in this matter,” said Rowley. “We too have our issues of racism. This is a time where we should follow the entreaties of our elders: when your brother’s house is on fire, wet yours. There is a lot to be learnt by what is happening outside.

“[…] Fortunately, we have made sufficient progress to bolster and protect us from the most vulgar incidents that we are seeing on the outside. But let us not for one minute believe we are insulated, or it doesn’t apply to us… We too have lessons to learn.”

There was better news to report on the health front. The twin island republic has had one imported case of the novel coronavirus over the last month, which took the country’s tally to 117 confirmed cases since the first positive result in mid-March.

On Monday 8 June, barbers, hairdressers, domestic workers, gardeners and so on will return to work while, on Friday 12 June, all places of worships also re-open with the normal restrictions of sanitising, physical distancing and masks. Church services are limited to one hour.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

By Monday 22 June, Rowley said the public service should ‘get back to normal’ with all workers returning to full shifts, Covid-19 guidelines notwithstanding. All public transportation will return to full capacity by then while bars, gyms, casinos, cinemas and in-house dining should also resume as well as beaches and rivers and sport activities without crowds.

The promised changes, Rowley noted, would only be affected if ‘something horrendous happens’. It should mean that the only things still closed by the end of June are schools and our international borders.

Chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram noted that, in other countries, the reopening of schools generally led to a spike in infection rates within days. As such, all child-related events are postponed until September.

“Given all the things that have happened, this country should be back to 80 percent of is functionality [by 22 June] with the restriction of protocols of behaviour,” said Rowley.

Minister of National Security Stuart Young reiterated that exemptions for the return of nationals from abroad are given based on numbers of the group and what the public health sector can safely control.

On Friday 12 June, Young said between 326 to 360 Trinidad and Tobago cruise line workers are due to return to these shores. Those workers will be tested by local health care workers but, in a twist, will remain on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship to serve their 14 day quarantine.

Photo: Doctors swab a patient as part of the test for Covid-19.

The workers will each have their own cabin with bathroom facilities on the ship and will be monitored daily by local doctors.

Young also said over 300 students should return to Trinidad on Saturday and will be quarantined at the UWI St Augustine Campus.

“Everyone can come home but it is a managed process,” said Young. “They can’t all come at the same time.”

Rowley stressed that Trinidad and Tobago is not Covid-19 free and it is irresponsible for anyone to say so. However, he said we have a lot to be grateful for and again pointed to the Trinbagonians who are anxious to return from abroad.

“This could have been so much worse for us,” said Rowley. “[…] Apparently Trinidad is a real place now.”

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