Uncertainty as safe zone opening looms


Barman Andrea Roass cleans the counter of Tommy’s Bar in MovieTowne, Port of Spain in preparation for the opening of safe zones next Monday. PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI –

RESTAURANTS, casinos and cinemas are preparing to open next Monday to vaccinated patrons even though some operators are still grappling with time constraints and the inability to sell alcohol.

Speaking with Newsday on Thursday, chef Brigette Jospeh, co-founder of the Food and Beverage Association said some restaurant owners will wait to see how others operate in the safe zone before deciding to join the concept.

For the time being, they will remain open for curb side pick up only. The association has a 300-strong membership.

Under the safe zone concept, businesses including restaurant, bars, gyms, water parks, cinemas and casinos will be allowed to open only to vaccinated customers, must be operated by owners and staff who are fully vaccinated, must operate only at 50 per cent of normal capacity and must conform to the set curfew hours.

“One concern is staffing. You will need someone dedicated to ensuring that the restaurant is at 50 per cent capacity and that those entering have valid vaccination cards,” Joseph said.

COB-WEBBING: Trizette James cob-webs the ceiling of the Silver Dollar Casino in Shirvan Plaza, Tobago in preparation for the opening of business safe zones – which includes casinos – on Monday. PHOTO BY DAVID REID –

She added that some of the association’s member restaurants have reported vaccine hesitancy by staff.

Another issue is the 10 pm start for the curfew which will force restaurants to close by 7-8 pm in order to allow staff to clean up, prep for the following day and also head home.

Omar Hadeed, part owner of the Domino’s and Pita Pit franchise, said his businesses will remain curb side only as this has been their strongest selling strategy even before the pandemic.

He said that with fines for any breach of the rules in safe zones being very high and with some issues still unclear, he does not want to run the risk of breaching the safe zone rules.

Sherry Persad, president of the TT Members Club Association, said her members are ready to re-open, although the curfew hours are of concern since their business model caters to late night patrons. She said while casinos don’t sell alcohol, it is served as part of the food and beverage fare for playing clients and the ban on public alcohol consumption, could negatively impact members’ business.

Movietowne owner Derek Chin said while he intends to open on Monday, policing patrons will be difficult since his workers will not have an official database to verify whether or not a customer has a valid vaccination card. He too raised concerns about the 10 pm curfew since most patrons attend cinema in the evening and night.

He pointed out that the latest instalment of the James Bond franchise is a movie that is two hours and 40 minutes long and this plus the time needed to clean up after a movie, the latest this can be played is at 6 pm.

Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants & Tourism Association president Hassel Thom said it is trickier for hotels to immediately go into safe zones, since their licenses are all interwoven.

He said the food and beverage license is connected with the gym and other aspects of hotels, so to allow unvaccinated customers into the hotel but not the designated safe zones may be problematic.

He added that as general manager of Cara Suites Hotel and Conference Centre, a decision was taken that only vaccinated guests will be welcomed. But not all hotels can or will do this, he said.

El Shaddai Lake cleans a chair at Mr Chow’s in La Romaine on Friday in preparation for the opening of safe zone businesses next Monday. PHOTO BY MARVIN HAMILTON –

Restaurants, bars, common gaming houses, betting pools, cinemas and theatres, private members’ clubs, gyms and fitness studios and waterparks are covered under the safe zone concept.

An unvaccinated person found on the premises could land the owner a $25,000 fine the unvaccinated patrons found in safe zones face a $5,000 fine. Anyone found guilty of producing fake documents will be charged with fraud and treated with as the law allows.

Inspections would be carried out by public health officers, as well as the police. Only vaccinated officers will police the safe zones while public health inspectors will meet with their seniors on Friday to determine how they will inspect safe zones.

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