Trinidad and Tobago will start the gradual re-opening of its economy from 11 May with KFC, Wendy’s, doubles and other itinerant and non-itinerant restaurants being first out of the blocks. They will operate until 8pm with no in-house dining.
“Food establishments and restaurants would be allowed to open and provide food services but there will continue to be no in-service dining,” said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a press conference this afternoon. “[…] Food can be prepared and sold to persons on the go.”
The decision was the first move by the government to loosen restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Check below for all three phases.)
At present, Trinidad and Tobago has just one hospitalised patient for the novel coronavirus, who is in the High Dependency Unit at the Caura General Hospital, while four ambulatory cases are stationed at the Home of Football Wellness Centre.
From the 116 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 103 patients recovered and have returned home while there were eight deaths.
Rowley admitted that he was nervous about potentially increasing the risk of infecting citizens and said re-opening was a much harder decision than closing in the first place. However, he said the country has earned some respite.
“We have done surprisingly well, because when we embarked on this we were catering for the worst,” said Rowley. “But we cannot let our guard down. We must do everything to maintain this position and even improve on it.”
In other immediate changes, Witco, TCL and Nu-Iron are also due to reopen on Monday so as to resume their respective business for export. Hardwares will be open from 8am to 4pm, supermarkets, groceries and shops will continue from 8am to 6pm with pharmacies also still operating between 8am to 8pm.
Exercising is also allowed once persons follow rules on gatherings and physical distancing. All members of the public are asked to wear masks outside of home.
“We are tentatively returning to some commerce,” said Rowley.
Notably, all other restrictions remain in place including restrictions of groups to five persons, vehicles can only operate at 50 percent capacity. Bars, churches, car shops, malls, barbers, hair dressers and so on are still closed.
The government decisions, as chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram confirmed, were made based on discussions with healthcare professionals.
“We are beginning to do what is reasonable to do,” said Rowley. “We are satisfied that what we are going to recommend today is the best step we can take. We have broken up the next five to six weeks into phases.
“[…] This is a very dangerous phase we are embarking on.”
Phase one is due to run until 23 May, during which time the Ministry of Health will monitor Covid-19 figures for an unmanageable spike in transmission. Rowley made it clear that he will not hesitate to return to current restrictions if the data suggests it necessary.
“If we see no worrisome change, then we go into phase two,” said the prime minister.
In the second phase, from 24 May to 6 June, the government will reopen the entire manufacturing sector while all public sector construction will resume. The National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) is also likely to resume then.
“In phase two, we will still maintain the separation in the public transport and the maxis and taxis,” said Rowley.
The third phase runs from 7 to 20 June and would see the entire public sector come out to work as well as the resumption of all private sector construction. Rowley hinted there may be some element of flexi-time or alternative work for public servants.
At this point, public transport and maxis and taxis will be allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity while barbers and hairdressers are expected to be free to restart service.
“We have said that as we monitor the situation, if the numbers continue to be just as good as they are now,” he said, “we will take steps to advance towards us the dates that I have just mentioned. So that phase two can come earlier than 24 May and phase three can come earlier than 7 June.
“But if on the other hand—as we expose more people, taking a little more risk—if there is a spike and we believe that it is not under control then we will have to make the necessary, sensible arrangements. And of course if the spike looks serious and more dangerous, the only response is to resort to what we have done before which has worked for us.”
No timelines were given for the final three phases, which are: malls, beaches and so on (phase four), cinemas and clubs (phase five), and, finally, the country’s borders (phase six).
“We will maintain our border closure until we are satisfied that the external environment is such that we can accept within Trinidad and Tobago, persons from heavily infected areas outside,” said Rowley. “If there are people inside Trinidad and Tobago who want to leave, Trinidad and Tobago is not a prison—the minister of national security and authorities […] it is quite possible that they can allow that service.
“When we took the decision to close off traffic into our country… It is unfortunate that some people were on the outside and in every situation, there was serious inconvenience. We knew that .
“But there was a price that this country had to pay to be where we are today.”
Schools are still set to reopen in September. However, Cape and CSEC examinations are due for early July while the government will announce a date for SEA exams soon.
(Re-opening the T&T economy)
Phase 1 (Monday 11 May to Saturday 23 May): Food establishments including restaurants and roadside food vendors can open and provide services while following proper hygienic practices and physical distancing. There must be NO dine-in service. TCL, Nu-Iron and WITCO can also restart their business for export.
Phase 2 (Monday 24 May to Saturday 6 June): The entire manufacturing sector can reopen along with all public sector construction. NLCB may be allowed to resume operations.
Phase 3 (Monday 7 June to Saturday 20 June): The entire public service returns to work along with all private sector construction. Public transport, maxi taxis and taxis will be allowed to carry 75% passenger capacity.