Tobago Chamber of Commerce president Diane Hadad says the government’s decision to lift the mandate on the wearing of masks in public is long overdue.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced the move at a covid19 news conference on July 5, saying it would take effect from July 17 (Sunday).
It means people not wearing masks in public will no longer be liable to police action, including fixed-penalty fines.
However, the Ministry of Health issued guidelines on Wednesday advising people to measure their risk when deciding to unmask in certain situations and places.
Under the guidelines, masking will remain mandatory at public institutions. He also said businesses and other entities can still demand that people be masked to access service.
Deyalsingh said the unvaccinated, the immunocompromised (having an impaired immune system), people travelling in public transportation or attending religious services are among those for whom continued mask-wearing in public places and crowded environments is highly recommended.
Hadad, speaking to Newsday on Wednesday, said the government acted responsibly in finally deciding to remove the mandate.
“It was a very responsible decision. Eventually you will feel a level of relief. Not sure why it would have taken so long, but at the end of the day removing it on a Monday and removing it on Saturday really makes no difference. But we will go with the date.”
She said people who may be fearful about doing away with the mask altogether have the right to continue wearing them as they see fit.
“We will also have to look at the other safety risks that have also been shown, based on robberies and violent crime in terms of people having the masks to do so.
“But from a health perspective, I also think it is about time and rightfully so. We need to move on.”
Tobago Business Chamber president Martin George has also welcomed the decision.
“We have to get with the times and keep in step with the rest of the world,” he said in a WhatsApp voicenote.
“The world has moved past covid19. Covid19 is no longer an excuse or a reason to keep business from functioning properly, or from having society carrying out their normal activities.
“So this is quite welcomed news for us as a business chamber and for me, in my capacity as someone who speaks out on these issues publicly, I am happy to hear that.”
Like Hadad, George also acknowledged that many people may wish to continue wearing the masks beyond July 17 for various reasons.
“But to mandate it to continue in public, I think we had reached a point where it was becoming palpably absurd.”
He observed that while thousands of people would be “hugging up, jamming together, wining together, gyrating and talking, shouting, laughing in each-other’s faces without masks, people walking by themselves in the middle of the Queen’s Park Savannah, were expected to wear masks.
“How absurd could it be in a scenario such as that?”
George said people must learn to live with covid19.
“I think this was something that was bound to happen, and we definitely welcome it. As I have said, maybe two years ago, we have to learn live with covid19, we have to learn to die with covid19. That is not something that is going to go away.”
He added, “If you look at even SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which was from years ago, it is still around. It is just not making headlines in a dramatic fashion.
“The fact of the matter is that these things come and they have their time in the spotlight. But after that, we just really have to move on as a society and learn to basically manage ourselves, our own personal health, personal hygiene.”
George urged people to continue to practise basic hygiene and protocols to avoid contracting covid19.