National Security Minister Stuart Young vowed that the government will take action on churches who refuse to act responsibly.
Young’s warning came after Reverend Winston Cuffie advised followers to refuse to be ‘dominated by fear’ and attend a Miracle Ministries service last night in Chase Village, Chaguanas—dedicated to ‘the impartation and activation of the gifts of healing’.
Cuffie, in an advertisement, told followers that ‘the best and safest place to be now is in the house of the Lord’ and ‘God’s house is not a place where we fear we will get sick’. And, in reference to legislation that has shut down bars, dining areas and clubs so as to discourage congregations of people, he suggested that churches are above such guidelines.
“God’s house is not the same as a bar, entertainment centre or so,” stated the advertisement from Miracle Ministries. “The healing, miracle, Holy Ghost power dwells in His house.”
Young advised that the ‘Holy Ghost’ might not be the only being visiting churches in the near future, as the government tries to desperately slow Trinidad and Tobago’s infection rate in a bid to ward off the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is an extremely irresponsible call,” said Young, at today’s press conference. “[…] To be told there is a certain pastor calling on people to come and gather because God will protect—quite simply from a medical point of view that is simply not true.
“We will now take a consultation [at the level of the government] and we will take the necessary action.”
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh urged churches to work with the government and consider the impact on society of what they are doing.
“[Trinidad and Tobago’s healthcare system] could collapse if that church behaves irresponsibly because you would get community spread [of the virus],” said Deyalsingh. “[…] Those gains [made by the country so far] are hard-won and hard-fought but they could all collapse tomorrow, if certain members of the public and certain groups continue to behave irresponsibly.
“[…] Pray to god—we need prayers… But you could do that from the confines and comfort of your house.”
In today’s most significant update, the government confirmed that 40 of the 68 passengers who boarded a cruise ship in Guadeloupe earlier this month have tested positive for Covid-19. It means Trinidad and Tobago now has 49 positive cases.
The positive cases are generally elderly people. Despite warnings throughout February about avoiding anything but ‘non-essential travel’, the citizens left Trinidad on 5 March for a cruise, which chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram described as ‘a breeding ground for infectious disease’.
“They are generally not unwell, they have mild symptoms at this point,” said Parasram. “But because they belong to a high-risk group, we thought it best that they go to a tertiary care facility. In the event that they develop worse symptoms, they are there already and we can manage them better.”
Parasram stressed that, since the passengers were quarantined at Balandra from their return, there was no risk of further infections for the country.
“Having 40 cases doesn’t mean that there is further risk of community transmission to the country,” he said. “They have been contained from day one. There is no change of risk between yesterday and today in terms of community spread to the people of Trinidad and Tobago because of the steps we have taken to safeguard you all from the start.”
For the 28 persons who did not return positive tests, Parasram said they will have to remain in quarantine for an additional 14 days while the Balandra facility has been re-sanitised. It is a loop that will continue, should there be more positive findings from the cruise ship posse.
“If they develop symptoms, they will be tested again and if, as we expect, more will become positive, we will transfer them to the necessary tertiary care facility,” said Parasram. “[…] If anyone else [there] develops symptoms, we have to restart [the 14 day quarantine period] again.”
Deyalsingh told reporters that the cruise ship passengers retained Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC as their attorney from 16 March, which was a day before they returned to Trinidad. However, he did not divulge the nature of the legal exchanges between Maharaj and the government.
Young also advised the public that the government has taken the decision to temporarily close its borders to all but cargo vessels and planes from 12.01am on Monday 23 March. And, even then, those crews would not be allowed to disembark.
It means even Trinidad and Tobago nationals will not be allowed to return home from that point. Inter-island travel between Trinidad and Tobago continues until further notice.
Caribbean Airlines are allowing passengers with bookings to either put them on hold or make cancellations. (Click HERE for information.)
Young said too that the government has stepped up maritime and land patrols of its borders. However, there will be no legislation to close groceries and malls at the moment. Persons are asked to exercise social distancing and be brisk on their shopping excursions for necessary supplies.
Deyalsingh asked taxi and maxi drivers to transport passengers without using air-condition, so as to lessen the chances of infection. And he announced a new hotline, 877-WELL, for Covid-19 enquiries ONLY.
“That should be your last resort for Covid-19 questions only,” he said. “[…] 811 is still there for medical emergencies.”
Thus far, Trinidad and Tobago has had no deaths related to the novel coronavirus and Parasram said none from the initial nine positive cases showed signs of deterioration and ‘some are on the way to full recovery and discharge’.
Deyalsingh advised the public not to be seduced by misleading international articles about cures for the virus based on anecdotal evidence.
“From a policy perspective, there has been no drug that has been shown to be successful against Covid-19,” said the Health Minister. “[…] The only silver bullet is societal responsibility at this point in time.
“The vaccine at this point in time is not one you shoot into your arm. It is for people to work with the government and heed all our calls for responsibility—that will get us through.
“[…] We are in a good place; but all that could amount to nothing tomorrow in a flash if we behave irresponsibly.”
Editors Note: On 22 March 2020, the government passed a new Public Health Ordinance that, among other things, carries a TT$50,000 fine and for six month imprisonment for conducting ‘religious or ecclesiastical services or any other religious gatherings where the number of persons participating therein exceeds ten’. Click HERE to read more.