Hospitals just 10 days from being overrun; street food and non-essential retail face imminent shutdown

“We want you not to come out if it isn’t absolutely essential,” said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, “because then you become a part of the problem… Stay at home!”

Trinidad and Tobago are set for another series of measures meant to keep citizens at home, in an effort to curb the increase in Covid-19 measures. Dr Rowley said today that the list of companies asked to temporarily halt business will closely mirror those declared as ‘non-essential’ in April 2020.

Photo: Patrons line up for fast food on Ariapita Avenue over the weekend.

First to fall on the wrong side of the public health ordinance was, unsurprisingly, the food service. Last Thursday, the prime minister said all restaurants were to close by midnight. Today, it was the turn of street food merchants who generally catered to long lines of customers ever since.

“As of midnight tonight, all food service will be discontinued—and that includes itinerant or street food selling,” said the prime minister, at a press conference this afternoon.

‘Non-essential retail stores’ will be next, with only pharmacies, groceries and hardwares certain to be spared. Even then, the essential businesses are likely to be allowed to operate only between 6am and 6pm.

Dr Rowley said the measures taken by the government, after consultation with healthcare professionals, are bitter but necessary medicine.

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

“I have absolutely no qualms in doing what has to be done to protect the lives of the people of Trinidad and Tobago [and] to try and push back the rate of infection in this country,” said the prime minister. “[…] It will bring pain and suffering, but the outcome we are after is an outcome that we must obtain—which is allowing each person a good chance of surviving the onslaught of the virus.”

Dr Rowley’s announcement came after chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram, chief epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds, and principal medical officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards provided medical updates to the public.

Dr Abdool-Richards said Trinidad and Tobago is at the ‘tipping point’ with the parallel healthcare system set to be overwhelmed within seven to 10 days. At present, she said that 14 percent of infected persons need to be hospitalised while just six percent of hospitalised patients are being discharged daily.

“The hospitals are filling at a faster rate than they can empty,” said Dr Abdool-Richards, “and may compromise healthcare in other areas.”

Photo: Infection Prevention Control (IPC) nurses in customised donning area.
(Courtesy NCRHA)

On 31 March 2021, Trinidad and Tobago had 269 active cases of Covid-19. Today, that figure is 2,559, and, in his typical deadpan-style, Dr Hinds projected that we could have upwards of 10,000 active cases by 22 May.

There are 542 beds in the country’s parallel healthcare system. At present, 240 are already in use. Dr Abdool-Richards stressed too that each patient requires more than a physical bed and also uses a range of resources from physicians to PPE.

Should the parallel healthcare system prove unable to address the needs of Covid-19 patients, it will reduce the government’s ability to care for its citizens.

The Ministry of Health’s three senior doctors said Trinidad and Tobago can get there within two weeks.

“The upward trend is a concern,” said Dr Hinds.

Image: The threat of Covid-19 remains very real across the globe.

Dr Rowley said the government is responding to that threat in the best way it knows how.

“We could do nothing and hope for the best, we could do a little more and not do enough,” said Dr Rowley. “Or we could, by reasonable analysis, do what we think will give us the kinds of response that the circumstances require.”

Editor’s Note: Within an hour of today’s press conference, the Ministry of Health revealed five new deaths and an additional 158 cases as a result of the novel coronavirus. The article has been amended to reflect this.

At present, Trinidad and Tobago has 2,559 active cases while there have been 11,471 positives and 179 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. The government has given the first vaccination shot to 44,810 persons so far.

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About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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