Last month, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley set Trinidad and Tobago a target of 20 infections per day by 11 October, so as to be granted access to a Caricom ‘travel bubble’ —in which member nations can visit each other without need for Covid-19 tests or a quarantine period.
Barbados, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Vincent and the Grenadines are members of the Caricom bubble at present.
In the end, despite a slight decrease in infection rate, the twin island republic did not get close to the objective.
Dr Avery Hinds, technical director of the Epidemiology Department, reported a downward trend of Covid-19 cases, with decreases of 35 per cent, 22 per cent, and then 12 per cent in each of the last three weeks. However, new infections remain in the 50s.
Today, the Ministry of Health reported 22 new cases and one death. The twin island republic has had 5,043 positive cases since the onset of the pandemic with 90 deaths.
At this rate and with the virus’ apparent inroads into Trinidad and Tobago’s more vulnerable communities, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said the country can expect one death per day. There were 14 deaths already in October.
At a press conference this afternoon, Rowley announced an increase in the permissible public gatherings from five to 10 persons, while gatherings at funeral are also doubled from 10 to 20, and the daily number of Caribbean Airlines flights between the two islands climbs from two to six.
However, for the most part, the prime minister urged citizens to ‘hold the line’ for a little bit longer, in the face of Covid-19 restrictions.
From 17 August, roughly two months ago, the government clamped down on ‘non-essential services’, which include everything from in-house dining, cinemas and bars to team sports, schools and churches.
Today, Rowley offered an exemption to Buccoo Reef and Caroni Swamp tour operators. But, despite hearing compelling arguments from other fields including the clergy, the prime minister is not yet ready to risk any more.
So religious congregations, team sport, recreational activities at beaches and rivers, and so on, remain illegal.
“A large percentage of people who participate [in religious activities] are the most vulnerable,” said Rowley. “For a little while longer, we believe we should stay away from those activities; and the same applies to bars and restaurants.
“[…] If there are no more upward ticks [in the infection rate] by the 24th of this month, we should make changes. So let’s hold off for just a little bit longer […] or we might end up choking by trying to swallow too much.”
There was an admonishment for public servants, though, as Rowley said ‘very weak management’ has led to the abuse of anti-Covid-19 measures at many government bodies.
As part of the move to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government proposed workplace rotation with no more than a 50 percent turnout of non-essential employees at any given time.
Instead, the prime minister said some state bodies have barely 20 percent of their workforce reporting for duty while, at an unnamed organisation, productivity dropped from an average of 2,500 transactions per week to just 62.
“I am very disappointed in the public service,” said Rowley. “[…] It is a general free for all.”
The government will attempt to address the loss of control by creating a chain of command to act on work rosters, with absent employees expected to face the consequences.
Rowley offered anecdotal evidence to suggest more adherence to the wearing of masks too, although he said persons in queues still need to show more respect for physical distancing.
“We are slow exercising more responsibility,” said the prime minister. “[…] Hopefully the behaviour of the rest of us will have us in a position where very soon these restrictions can be moved.”
On the issue of the return of Trinidad and Tobago nationals still over seas, Minister of National Security Stuart Young said those will continue apace, thanks to an increase in available quarantine facilities—due to home isolation for most Covid-19 patients.
There have been 5,284 travel exemptions granted to returning nationals since the closure of our borders, with 1,952 offered since 31 August. There were exemptions too to allow the departure of 7,208 citizens, with 977 leaving since 31 August.
Young said there are still 7,100 citizens still awaiting permission to return, although he suggested that many of those hold dual citizenship or have permanent residence abroad but wish to return to their homeland after losing their jobs, due to the global economic downturn.