Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has defended amendments to the public health ordinance, which put children over eight years old and families in their private vehicles at risk of hefty fines for not wearing masks.
The measures, which became legally enforceable on Monday, received some public pushback. However, at this morning’s virtual media conference, Al-Rawi said both were carefully thought out.
On the matter of children, he noted that World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines state that children younger than five ‘should not be compelled to wear the mask’ while those above 12 should be treated like adults—as relates to this aspect of Covid-19 regulations.
And, for children in between those ages, a ‘risk-based approach’ is WHO’s recommendation, based on factors inclusive of the level of novel coronavirus spread in your country. At present, Trinidad and Tobago has the highest level of spread, which is community spread.
Al-Rawi said his office examined over a dozen countries including: Australia, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada and Jamaica.
Some, he said, make no exception for children of any age and expect everyone to wear masks. Canada’s mask policy starts at two years old, while he claimed that some countries, which he did not name, begin at 11, 12 and 13 years of age.
“What the legal research demonstrates is children from the WHO standard directly down to all the individual countries prescribe the wearing of masks for children,” said the attorney general.
According to the amendments, a child above eight—unaccompanied by an adult—can be fined TT$1,000 for the offence of not wearing a mask in public. The fine climbs to TT$2,000 and TT$3,000 for the second and third offence respectively.
If the child is with a guardian, then the adult will be charged. However, once at any of the three children’s courts—in Port of Spain, Fyzabad and Tobago—it is the child’s parents who foot the bill anyway, according to articles 56 and 57 of the Children’s Act.
“Where a child is charged with any offence […] that the parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child is the person the court will look to for payment of the fine,” said Al-Rawi.
As far as the wearing of masks inside private vehicles go, Al-Rawi suggested that to exempt family members could mean police would have to stop every such vehicle and ask occupants to prove they live in the same household. He said that was impractical and could create ‘grinding traffic’.
Instead, he asked the public to view the requested wearing of masks as a test to become a more disciplined nation.
“It is a great way for us to cause a shift in society,” said Al-Rawi. “[…] This simple exercise of urging compliance from the young straight to the old—let us look at it as a good [opportunity] to instil some discipline in our country.”
Thus far, nobody has been charged for failure to wear masks as tickets are still being distributed to the Police Service.
Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh pointed out that the wearing of masks should not be viewed as a temporary measure due to the current spike in infections. Rather, he said masks are here to stay until the world defeats the virus.
Deyalsingh expressed ‘sadness’ at today’s Newsday front page which showed a congregation of persons outside a Port of Spain bank.
“[This photograph] is telling me and every right-thinking person that we are not organising as a society,” said Deyalsingh. “I took the time to count how many people are in this photograph. I got about 35. I counted four persons with masks but using them to support their chins…”
Chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram announced the country’s 28th Covid-19 related death this morning, which was ‘an elderly male with co-morbidities’. There were also 42 new positive cases this morning and another 81 this evening.
At present, Trinidad and Tobago has 1,201 active cases of the novel coronavirus with 92 persons hospitalised: 72 at the Couva Hospital and 20 at the Caura Hospital. There are six patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Couva and 16 in the High Dependency Unit (HDU).
There are 980 infected persons in ‘home isolation’ while the 123 new positives will be screened by the relevant County Medical Officer Health (CMOH) offices to determine whether any cases require hospitalisation.
The twin island republic has had 1,920 positive results since the onset of the pandemic from 24,209 samples.
Dr Parasram reiterated that the new testing and quarantine procedure still swabs primary contacts when they do not share the same household as the infected person. When the primary contacts live with the Covid-19 positive person, they are swabbed if symptoms demand it, but the entire household is required to isolate for 21 days.
Dr Parasram again defended the Ministry of Health against criticism of relatively low levels of testing when compared to other countries. He said the government has followed WHO guidelines on the symptoms required for testing.
“You present and test based on a clinical definition,” he said. “We are not trying to meet a goalpost that has been put out there…”
Deyalsingh noted too that Covid-19 is not the only disease that should worry the public. He urged parents to ensure their children are vaccinated for measles and warned that we are in ‘dengue season’ and also need to be vigilant about the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
The over-taxed health care system can do without another outbreak.
Trinidad and Tobago vs Covid-19 (in numbers)
Local infections of Covid-19 in first wave (27 March to 26 April)
- 50 cases in 31 days.
Local infections of Covid-19 in second wave (20 July to 10 August)
- 129 cases in 22 days.
Local infections of Covid-19 since Election Day (11 August to 2 September)
- 1,639 cases in 23 days.
The Ministry of Health reminds members of the public to adhere to the ‘new normal’ and:
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth when you go out in public;
- Keep your distance from others (six feet);
- Stay home if you are ill;
- Clean then sanitise surfaces, such as tabletops, door knobs and cell phones;
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitiser;
- Cough into a tissue or into the crook of your elbow;
- Avoid touching your face.
Persons are urged to call Covid-19 hotline numbers: 877-WELL, 87-SWRHA or 877-3742 (Trinidad) and 800-HEAL (Tobago) if they feel unwell; or they can report a possible breach of Covid-19 regulations by calling 555, or sending messages—inclusive of photographs and videos—to the Police App or via Whats App to 482-GARY.
Editor’s Note: Story updated with Covid-19 results from the evening of 2 September.