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Dr Rowley opens beaches, relaxes restrictions on churches, gyms, casinos and cinemas

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the re-opening of beaches and ‘coastal areas’ and promised a report on the reopening of the borders to citizens by 2 November, as multiple Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed today.

From Monday, changes in the public health ordinance will permit the entire public sector to return to work, while religious services would be allowed for a maximum of one hour. Gyms, casinos, cinemas and members clubs are also allowed to operate within expected perimeters such as 50 per cent capacity, physical distancing, sanitising and avoiding congregations.

Photo: People wearing protective face masks walk on the beach in Belmar, New Jersey on 2 May 2020.
(Copyright AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

There will be exemptions too for tertiary level schools in subject areas which ‘cannot be done online’, like lab work and flight school.

Hotels can allow guests to use their swimming pools. However, rivers and inland swimming facilities remain banned—on the grounds that they are hubs for socialising—while bars, water parks and team sport are also outlawed.

“The main threat to us as a people is the gathering of people,” said Rowley, at today’s press conference in Tobago. “So the objective is to suppress gathering and interaction… It is that interaction that exposes us to the virus.”

Today’s relaxation of restrictions, announced by the prime minister on his 71st birthday, is in response to a local drop in caseloads of the novel coronavirus—but also, almost certainly, with the target of entering a Caricom ‘travel bubble’ in mind.

Trinidad and Tobago needs to get under 20 infections per day to be allowed into an arrangement with regional governments that allow visitors to enter approved countries without a mandatory Covid test or quarantine period.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (second from left) sits in on a Caricom press conference.

“We are averaging about 30 to 40 cases per day and, when you take away the imported cases, about the late 20s to low 30s,” said Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh, who suggested that roughly 10 percent of infections come from returning nationals. “That is a relatively good position.”

Before Trinidad and Tobago opens its borders to Caribbean colleagues, there is still the matter of citizens abroad who wish to return home. Rowley said he is creating a committee on Monday that will comprise of the ministers of health, national security and the attorney general.

The job of the committee is to file a report for the removal of the country’s current exemption system by 2 November and allow for the ‘cautious reopening of our borders’. The returning nationals are to quarantine at home and the prime minister suggested that technology could be utilised to monitor them.

Rowley urged citizens to be sensible and disciplined in their response to the current changes in the public health ordinance.

“Please Trinidad and Tobago, do not all run to Maracas or Pigeon Point or Crown Point [on Monday],” said Rowley, who suggested that persons try less popular beaches to avoid crowds. “If you do that you will create the exact environment we are trying to avoid… If we run to the beach and ignore these protocols, we will have no choice but to make these areas off limit again.”

Photo: A beach in La Grande Motte, southern France, is marked out with physical distancing zones to limit the possible spread of Covid-19.
(Copyright Clement Mahoudeau/AFP via Getty Images)

The prime minister said persons are free to remove their masks in the water but must keep them on while on the land. He noted too that cinemas, casinos and member clubs are not allowed to serve refreshments to patrons.

“To allow eating and drinking is to allow you to have no mask on,” said Rowley. “No food and drink is to be available when you are indoors watching a movie, and that is mandatory. If it is not observed, [permission to operate] will be withdrawn.

“[…] If you try to do too much irresponsibly, we can guarantee you will be cutting your own throats.”

As far as bars and in-house dining goes, the prime minister—who admitted that he is under ‘tremendous pressure’ to normalise the operations of the country—urged such establishments to wait a little longer for the green light.

He quipped that, for bar patrons, ‘after two drinks in your head, you forget about the minister of health and you forget about Covid’.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2020)

“Be patient for another two weeks and if we get the kind of cooperation that we expect,” he said, “[…] we should be able to add to that [list of exemptions] in-house services.”

The Ministry of Health announced 16 new cases and another Covid-19 related death today. The twin island of republic has 1,380 active cases of the novel coronavirus at present with 71 hospitalised patients.

There have been 5,503 positive cases and 105 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

Rowley said the country was just two weeks away from having its healthcare system totally overwhelmed by the spike in cases in August, but avoided disaster due to action taken by the government.

“We have been successful but at a personal cost to our economy and to our lives,” said the prime minister.

Today, Trinidad and Tobago was granted a little breathing space for abiding by the rules since then.

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