National Security Minister Stuart Young confirmed today that Trinidad and Tobago’s borders as well as bars, clubs, theatres, betting houses, churches and dining-in areas at restaurants will remain closed until 30 April 2020.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh made the amendment to the Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus] Regulations yesterday. The change does not impact on work places, which means that ‘non-essential’ workers are still expected to return to their jobs on Thursday 16 April.
Young further discouraged persons from having their barbers and beauticians visit their homes during the next two weeks, so as to help contain the spread of Covid-19. At present, freedom of movement is not prohibited by law, but the government is urging persons to ‘use common sense’.
It is, however, now illegal for a person ‘to be found at or in any beach, river, stream or spring unless the presence of that person is essential for the carrying out or provision of [an essential] service’. Contravention of this regulation is ‘liable on summary conviction to a fine of TT$50,000 and imprisonment for a term of six months’.
Young stressed, too, that the lengthened restrictions against dining-in restaurants also applied to roadside vending, such as doubles.
“People [are] advertising on social media certain roadside vending and what they intend to do over the weekend and they will have their stands set up,” said Young. “It is worth repeating … that type of irresponsible behaviour should not be encouraged by the public.
“You go out there to pick up your roadside food and mingle with other people while waiting, and try to fool yourself that it is a ‘drive-by’ operation. You are running the risk of contracting the virus and going back and spreading it to your whole family and community.
“[…] Is that delicacy worth it?”
At present, ‘fruit stalls or shops’ and ‘vegetable stalls or shops’ are protected under article 3(2)(z) of the public health ordinance as an ‘essential service’.
Five weeks after the last band crossed the stage, chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram also ruled out the possibility that Carnival played any role in subsequent cases of Covid-19 on the twin-island republic.
The government’s decision to go ahead with Carnival, which is a significant money-spinner for the country, was criticised in some quarters. The festival was held two weeks before the World Health Organisation confirmed that the novel coronavirus outbreak had reached pandemic proportions.
However, with a general incubation period of two weeks, Parasram believes we can now safely say that Carnival was not a threat to the health of the nation.
“At the time of Carnival, there were very, very few cases in those countries [where our tourists came from],” said Parasram, who pointed out that there were restrictions for persons travelling from China since 30 January 2020. “There were less than 50 cases in all those countries and maybe as low as 10 in the US, which is 10 out of 300 million.
“[…] If we had transmission of this virus during the Carnival season, we would have had tens of thousands of cases of coronavirus in Trinidad and Tobago to date. I don’t think prior to getting our first case on the 12th of March, there would have been any cases in Trinidad and Tobago.”
At present, the Ministry of Health has confirmed 97 positive cases of the novel coronavirus from 701 samples tested by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) with six deaths and one discharge.
Parasram urged citizens to contact the relevant hotlines as soon as they present symptoms: ‘so we can see what we’re dealing with … to prevent mortality’.
In instances when the Ministry of Health states ‘further epidemiological investigation [is] required’ to determine where the patient contracted Covid-19—as was the case with yesterday evening’s fatality—Parasram explained that it was usually a gap in the paperwork done by the first physician to treat the patient, which omitted travel history or whether there was contact with a primary case.
In other news, Young confirmed that the Immigration Division will be closed to the public next week, as they upgrade hardware and software.
The national security minister has suggested that Immigration use an alphabetised system for passport renewal thereafter with certain days of the week set aside for surnames from, for example, ‘A-D’ or ‘I-L’. There will still be an allowance for ‘emergency renewal’.
Deyalsingh noted that the Ministry of Health is still working on increasing its testing capabilities and also hopes to introduce drive-through testing in the near future.