Gov’t reintroduces bans on in-house dining, beaches and public gatherings; 1,100% increase in infections

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh announced this morning that in-house dining and beaches are now prohibited while the number of public gatherings is reduced from 10 to five persons, as the government responds to a 1,100% increase in Covid-19 infections from the first week of March.

At present, Trinidad and Tobago has an average of 42 infections per day over a seven day rolling average and health officials are still bracing for a spike from the Easter weekend.

Photo: Nurses get ready to work in full PPE gear in Seattle.

As a result, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley—who himself tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Easter Monday—authorised Deyalsingh to amend the Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-ncov)] (No 32) Regulations, 2020 to enforce a change in public behaviour. The measures taken today will remain in place for an initial period of three weeks.

The decision was taken after consultation with Minister of National Security Stuart Young and several high-ranking health officials including chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram.

“After discussions this morning with the health team, I have been authorised by the honourable prime minister to announce the following measures, which will kick in for a three week period starting at midnight tonight,” said Deyalsingh, at today’s virtual media briefing. “There will no longer be allowed in-house dining in restaurants, bars, casinos and cinemas. The simple logic, according to Dr [Michelle] Trotman, is to reduce congregation and to reduce the ability of the virus to jump from person to person in situations where masks cannot be warn. 

Photo: Is life still a beach?
A young man strolls along Maracas Bay during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

“[…] We are also reducing public gatherings from 10 persons back to five persons. We urge persons […] don’t have your limes in your homes. These things are to be discouraged at this point in time.

“The third measure, we will go back to our position that all beaches in Trinidad and Tobago, inclusive of beaches down the islands, will be closed to the public.”

The changes to the public health ordinance go into effect from midnight and follows restrictions to ‘recreational sport’, which were reintroduced before the Easter weekend.

Deyalsingh mentioned one exception to the ban on beaches for conservation activities for leatherback turtles, which ‘will go on unimpeded’.

The health minister justified the changes by pointing to the rise in infections as well as the hospital occupancy, which went from 2% to 25% in one month.

Photo: Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh addresses journalists during a virtual media conference on 7 May 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

“When we look at figures for the week [of] 7 March, the rolling day average was around three to seven cases per day over a seven day period,” said Deyalsingh. “And because of the way we behaved and let our guards down collectively, by the week [of] 14 March hat seven day average started to rise to 10. By the week [of] 21 march it went up to 16; by the week [of] 28 March, it went up to 26.

“And currently—Dr [Avery] Hinds worked it out this morning—the seven day rolling average, inclusive of yesterday where we had a recent record-breaking day of 70 cases, it is now 42. An increase by 12 times; these figures cannot be ignored.”

Deyalsingh said the government had to act quickly and hope the reintroduced measures can slow the momentum of the virus.

“We have to factor in the post-Easter surge which will start to come this weekend and [consider that] if we don’t do something now, we will have another surge two weeks from now on top of our Easter surge,” he said. “So our hospital occupancy is going to increase. We don’t want our hospital occupancy to reach to the point where we can’t flatten the curve. That will not be good for Trinidad and Tobago.”

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