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Today is not Carnival Sunday in the traditional sense and the Merry Monarch will not be reigning over two days of street parades this week. But the annual festival, which was cancelled last year and is very scaled down this year, is still uppermost in these final days of safe zone events hosted by the National Carnival Commission (NCC).

One of the major talking points, whenever an assessment is done of Taste of Carnival, should be whether the activities fully conformed with public health protocols.

Questions are being asked and have not been answered satisfactorily following two shows at Queen’s Park Savannah, the mecca of all Carnival-type events, late last week.

Although the T&T Police Service (TTPS) received no reports of public health breaches and NCC chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters saw no cause for concern, videos and photographs from a show at the venue on Thursday night tell a completely different story.

Images captured from various angles show a well-attended show with many of the patrons maskless and not maintaining social distance at the soca concert.

There was quite a public outcry on social media the next day, with concerns being expressed that what was promoted as a safe zone event might instead turn out to be a super spreader.

But hours later at the same venue there were reports of patrons blatantly disregarding all the public health rules and dancing across the Savannah stage at another soca concert.

The very distinctive party atmosphere at the two shows, while typical of what patrons expect at Carnival events, was not in line with the fete-less safe zone events promised by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and the NCC.

When approval was granted for a Taste of Carnival, plans were laid out for a very abbreviated version of the country’s main cultural festival with only concert-type events allowed.

An accurate interpretation of “no fetes or parties” would mean none of the very things witnessed in the stands and pods, with plenty of mingling, dancing, and unrestrained revelry.

What was seen at these events was inconsistent with the restrictions being enforced for other activities, such as going to beaches and rivers where music, alcohol and any things that might induce partying are prohibited.

At the Savannah and the other venues approved for Taste of Carnival activities, there should be only fully vaccinated people and crowds should be at 50 per cent capacity, with controlled entry and exit points, sanitization upon entry and other safe zone measures.

Proper management of crowds is a key consideration if there are plans for any Carnival-style activities later this year and the full-blown festival in 2023 since there are no guarantees that COVID-19 will be eradicated anytime soon.

To avoid any confusion over what is allowed and what is banned, the authorities need clear messaging about what is permitted in safe zones and what are the rules for public gatherings. Also as important is the monitoring of all activities and swift action when there are breaches.

Otherwise, this country could end up with another pandemic crisis that exacts a heavy toll on lives and the economy.