Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has announced that Trinidad and Tobago will close its borders to all visitors for the next 14 days from midnight 17 March. Meanwhile, schools will remain closed until 20 April 2020.
The decision, according to Rowley, is a first step to stop the twin-island republic from becoming ‘overwhelmed’ by the Covid-19 pandemic. Trinidad and Tobago nationals will be allowed to re-enter the country but will be quarantined.
“We will cease to accept people into this country who are not nationals of this country,” said Rowley. “We are basically disconnecting ourselves…”
The prime minister’s decision follows similar moves across the globe as countries like the United States, Spain, Germany, Egypt, Georgia and more have opted for full or partial closure of their borders with some countries only allowing visiting delivering goods or services.
Rowley said exceptions would be granted by the minister of national security, although he did not give details of what would warrant permission to land.
The government’s decision, he admitted, will put the financial health of Caribbean Airlines in serious doubt. Rowley said CAL registered $54 million in profit in 2018 and is believed to have doubled that windfall in 2019. However, it will bear the burden of the global health crisis.
Closer to home, the Prime Minister also said bars, restaurants, cinemas and all places that encourage congregations are also asked to stay closed. He did, however, make an exception for restaurants offering curbside delivery instead of in-house dining. The government is willing to pass legislation to enforce that request if necessary.
“We are expecting that our actions will be made with the collaboration and support of the business community and labour,” said Rowley. “[…] The real danger is if we are skylarking and we get a level of infection which overwhelms our defence systems.”
Rowley warned that restrictions on the normal life of Trinidad and Tobago citizens can feasibly remain in place until June, while the country will remain on alert for months later.
“Experts are telling us we can be in this situation until June,” he said, “and we can still be feeling the effects come October.”
He also made a plea for financial institutions and landlords to defer payments owed by people unable to keep up with their debts because of the Covid-19. He stressed that he was calling for a deferment and not debt forgiveness and that those who could pay should continue to do so.
The implemented measures could mean a postponement of the SEA exams although such decisions will be made in the near future. Rowley pointed to the catastrophic situation in Italy as justification for the government’s drastic actions.
“Look at other people’s consequences and say there but for the grace of God is Trinidad and Tobago,” said Rowley. “Italy has as good a health system as you could think of. In fact, during the Democratic primaries [in the United States], one candidate was using Italy as an example of a health system they should copy. And yet they have been overwhelmed by this virus.
“[…] Our system is as good as any and better than most. We are lucky that we have some of the best health-care givers in the world.”