Jensen La Vende
MOST of TT will have to remain home for another six weeks as restrictions put in place to curb the spread of covid19 continue up to July 4.
This is in addition to the state of emergency (SoE), which could last for an additional three months after Parliament votes on it on Monday.
Speaking at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, on Saturday, the Prime Minister said the restrictions imposed on April 29, which were amended days afterwards, will end on July 4.
The restrictions, which shut down restaurants, bars, street food vendors, beauticians and construction sites, among other businesses, is separate from the SoE called on May 15.
Asked when there will be a roll-back on restrictions, Dr Rowley said he did not want to speculate, but will be “guided by the condition of the country.”
“The regulations: they will be extended to July 4. That will allow us to deal with the issue of quarantine and mask-wearing and so on.
“We are in a state of emergency that will go until, when we go to the Parliament tomorrow (in fact Monday). We will take the 90 days that the law allows, but it doesn’t mean we will be in this situation for 90 days. We will revoke it as soon as that is the prudent action to take.
“We want to come out of it as quickly as possible. Both the SoE and public health regulation will be determined by the condition of the country at any given day.”
The increase in covid19 cases which triggered the restrictions in April saw an exponential increase in May, with a record high of over 8,000 cases up May 21.
According to the 4 pm update on Saturday there were 17 deaths overnight, the third highest daily total reported since the start of the pandemic. The number of new cases reported was 509, which also represents a record high. For the month of May alone, there have been 196 deaths so far, which on average is nearly nine deaths daily or almost one death every three hours.
Where the numbers
need to be
Last Wednesday Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, quoting epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds, said the SoE will be lifted when the new daily cases have dropped to about 15 a day for a two-week period.
Al-Rawi, who was speaking in a Twitter Spaces conversation, said Hinds “addressed that squarely. He said, ‘Let’s get back to 15 per day.’
“So we were up at 150, and he said we really wanted to have a rolling average per day of about 15-30, and that would be a good measure to go to.”
But, asked on Saturday when this figure might be reached, Hinds said: “First of all, the statement quoted from the AG is not what the AG said. The conversation that was being had was, we were speaking about the change in trend of rolling averages, and that (at) the point when were at 15 and moving upwards, we were sounding the alarm, that we were going in the wrong direction.”
He added that there is no specific number that needs to be reached before rolling back restrictions, and a lot of things need to be taken into consideration first.
“The last thing you want to do is make a change prematurely, then reverse the effects that you are seeing, because you are seeing the effects. With public health intervention, one of the things that we see globally is that we tend to want to eliminate the public health intervention before we have eliminated the problem. We see that with other international responses to other diseases.
“So we don’t want to do that in this case, because history has shown that there is a tendency to do that, and it ends badly.”
Rowley added that while May 23 was the projected date to end the restrictions when they were implemented on April 29, because covid19 cases have worsened, there is a further need for lockdown. Among the public health restrictions are closing beaches, parks and all forms of public recreation. Along with the imposition of the SoE, outdoor sports and exercising were banned, along with drinking alcohol in public.
Before the SoE, some people took long drives or visited each other at night, but the SoE includes a curfew from 9 pm-5 am, so that is not possible. While police have not done so as yet, under the SoE they have the legal authority to stop the public from taking long drives even outside the curfew hours.
While not wanting to give a figure on Saturday for when restrictions will be lifted, during a media conference last October, Rowley said an average of 20 cases a day would allow the easing of some restrictions, hopefully then in time for Divali and Halloween.
Hinds also supported this figure on October 17, when TT was considering opening the borders for intra-regional travel.
Rowley said those who are doing things that are “not helpful” are prolonging the existence of the restrictions and SoE. He added that he wants to be out of it as quickly as possible, imploring the public to do what is required of them.
Asked about government intervention for those facing evictions, Rowley said: “The Government does not legally control those landlord arrangements.
“What we are asking for is empathy. For people who are doing that (evicting people during the pandemic), think of all your family members and ask yourself, is there any member of your family in another country somewhere who is in that situation, and how do you feel about them being treated like that?”
He added that the pandemic calls for a human response, as there is a limit to what the Government can do. He said he can’t ask landlords to provide free accommodation forever, but is hoping that this intervention will be short.
On March 27, he warned that the country could not afford to pay out as much as it did last year when the country was locked down at the start of the pandemic. During that media briefing Rowley said there is no money to finance rental assistance, food supplies and job loss grants, and called on the country, like him, to “err on the side of respecting the consequences because they are so grave.”
On Friday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert promised some $300 million in relief grants for those who will be affected by the restrictions. He also listed other types of aid to be made available. He said $30 million will fund 25,000 food baskets for May, a facility which may last all the way to September, at an additional cost of $30 million. Food cards, maxi-taxi operators, cultural artists and entrepreneurs will also be financially assisted.
The Government withdrew some $900 million from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund to address the pandemic last year, he said, which included salary relief grants and other social assistance.