(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) – Emergency isolation mode!
From midnight tonight, non-nationals won’t be allowed entry into Trinidad and Tobago for two weeks, schools will remain closed until April 20 and bars are being asked to close for two weeks to prevent novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spread.
“We’re basically disconnecting ourselves from the international community for the next 14 days,” Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said during a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, on Monday, after a special Cabinet meeting concerning more plans to deal with the virus.
He said experts have told Government the COVID-19 situation could last until June, with immediate effects up to October.
T&T currently has five cases: two announced last week, two more on Sunday and one yesterday. All five were imported cases. Yesterday, Ministry of Health officials at the briefing, said there are also many people in self-isolation now.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert, among ministers who spoke yesterday, also estimated that T&T could lose $5 billion from the twin “hit” of the recent oil price crash and the virus.
“We’re in a crisis, we’re in an emergency – there’s no gainsaying that,” Rowley said.
The Prime Minister noted that there are 75 elderly nationals up the Caribbean on a cruise ship —which had some COVID cases—and they’re trying to return. He said they couldn’t be denied entry as they’re citizens.
“They’re coming home and when they do, they form part of our responsibility,” Rowley said.
He said Government is seeking to shut out the virus from T&T and contain the situation to prevent transmission.
“To do this we have to isolate ourselves from the outside source of the virus,” he said.
He added there could be no solution without some inconvenience and pain, or T&T would end up in a worst case scenario. Decisions being taken were based on policy, he said.
“We will protect your jobs, your families, the economy as far possible,” he said, detailing the following:
• From midnight tonight T&T will cease to encourage/accept entry of non-nationals for two weeks, save under exceptional circumstances. Exceptions include healthcare, Caribbean Public Health Agency and other essential workers
• All bars where people gather to drink and socialise will remain closed for 14 days to deny virus spread.
• To prevent person-to-person transmission, Government is instructing that gatherings beyond 25 people be avoided at all costs except under unavoidable circumstances.
• Closure of schools and places of learning, announced last Friday will continue until start of the new term on April 20.
National Security Minister Stuart Young said Government was also asking bars to shut operations for the 14 days.
Rowley added that while moral suasion is the solution, “if it’s requested to be legislated, we will.”
“If it can be enforced under existing legislation, it will be—but people of T&T why do we have to be beaten over the head to do the correct thing to save our lives?”
Saying the situation is a very, very serious one, Rowley said bars are places where people go to relax and sip a beer and while the closure call will have a “…certain kind of cultural rub, we’re called on not to do something like (going to a bar) because the consequences can be grave. Look at what’s happened in other countries.”
He said restaurants aren’t being asked to close but curbside service over in-house dining would be preferable, since in-house dining causes congregating which increases transmission spread. “This is for a short time … we’re aiming to create a semi-sterile environment, so don’t make it difficult by congregating.”
Several local franchise restaurant companies yesterday announced new measures which suspended in-house dining in favour of take-away activity.
Rowley said a state of emergency wasn’t part of the solution since this couldn’t make people wash their hands.