Just a week into the reopening of bars, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh is warning that they may have to shut them down again if operators and patrons continue to act irresponsibly.
Deyalsingh gave the warning at Saturday’s Ministry of Health virtual press conference as he referred to two “disturbing” videos circulating on social media of bars in Chaguanas and North Trinidad jampacked with patrons.
Saying this was one of the reasons the reopening of bars was among the last sectors addressed in the Government’s COVID measures, Deyalsingh said irresponsible behaviour in bars had forced many countries to reinstate lockdown measures.
“We are sadly noticing that now happening in Trinidad and Tobago, more Trinidad.”
Alluding to social media videos, he said people were in each other faces, partying.
“We are asking those bar owners and patrons to please exercise some discretion in how you use bars, how you operate bars, it is for your own good.”
However, he said as a result of the activity seen in the videos, he and Chief Medical Officer Roshan Parasram were now looking at stricter measures to manage bar operations.
“Because the free for all has the potential of taking this country back to where it was three months ago and we can’t allow that,” Deyalsingh said.
“We just heard the Minister of Finance say how many hundreds of millions of dollars that the taxpayers are spending in all of these types of relief but we can’t let one sector of the business community operate in such a way that will do two things—one, send us back to where we were three months ago, have more people unemployed, put more strain on the health care system.
“So in closing, I am asking bar owners and patrons to manage your operations. I am asking patrons to exercise some caution but we are going to be looking, we have started already from today, to see what special regulations we can put in to manage the operations of bars and to curtail the type of behaviour we are seeing in bars, it is very disturbing.”
Noting that bar owners had advocating for their businesses to reopen citing the loss of income and jobs, he said it was now disappointing to see such irresponsible behaviour.
“We don’t, as the Ministry of Health have to recommend the shutting down of bars, we don’t, but to protect the health of 1.4 million people, if bar owner and patrons keep doing this it may be something we may have to look at, to shutdown bars again.
“But we don’t want to do that we just ask people in the interest of public safety and health to behave responsibly. This is my appeal to bar owners and patrons.”
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley also separately warned bar owners that they may be shut down again by tomorrow if they do not abide by COVID-19 health regulations.
“What is going on outside of T&T is frightening. If it ever goes on like that in this country we will be in big trouble. Countries that thought that they had passed the worst and had reopened business are now closing them back,” Rowley said during Saturday’s launch of the Linear Accelerator (LINAC) wing of the St James Medical Complex.
“There are two bs and one is borders, which must be tightly managed and the other is bars, which will be closed by Monday if the reports coming to me are the same reports that came to me last night. People have reopened bars and are doing exactly what we asked them not to do. What is happening now is the environment to create community spread.”
Rowley said to prevent T&T from ending up like other countries, they may have to prevent people from taking a drink at bars. However, he called on bar owners and citizens to be “responsible” to preserve the low rates of COVID-19 the country has managed to achieve.
He said he will also ask the Ministry of National Security to enforce the regulations.
Nari’s owner: I can’t control crowd outside
The owner of Nari’s on D Avenue in Barataria Ramsingh “Nari” Lalla has admitted that one of the videos circulating showing non-compliance with COVID-19 protocols was at his premises.
However, Lalla said Saturday that the crowd was liming outside his establishment and he had no control over them. He said inside, his bar they observed the COVID-19 protocols. Even before COVID-19, he said people would come with their coolers and lime on the outside because they liked the ambiance. “There were crowds in other bars in Barataria and throughout Trinidad. If you talk to popular bar owners they will tell you that the crowd is outside,” Lalla.
He said he felt his bar was being unfairly targeted. “It is a clear case of victimisation. I don’t see what I doing is different from everybody else,” he said.
Within his establishment, he said they were practicing physical distancing, proper sanitation and all the other guidelines.
“It is all about saving lives. I am not saying that the people on the outside were in compliance but I have no control outside the building.” He said he was also not happy that social media users were commenting only on his bar and posting his photo.
Bar association boss responds
Bar Owners and Operators Association president Teron Mohan on Saturday begged Health Minister Deyalsingh not to allow the irresponsible behaviour of a few result in another national shutdown of bars.
“I would like the relevant authorities to know that the inaction, or inability, or the outright ignoring of the guidelines and law by the select few should not have an overall effect on the others who are doing what we need to be doing in accordance with the guidelines and the law,” Mohan said he was just as disturbed when he saw the video of the bar in North Trinidad with the activity.
“I want the Minister to know that we condemn these actions. I have been working tirelessly leading up to the opening and as well as we have been very meticulous to monitor crowd control, monitor persons sanitising before entering…”
He admitted he was not sure whether the owner of the bar in North Trinidad was one of his 300 members. However, he appealed to his members and other bar operators to adhere to the health guidelines and regulations to not only ensure that their businesses remain open but to protect themselves, their customers and the country.
Mohan admitted that they have not yet been able to put a system in place to monitor the activities of various bars to ensure compliance. But he said he will be making attempts to contact Deyalsingh to offer his assistance to find a way to ensure bar owners and patrons follow the COVID-19 protocols.
He said the industry has been hard hit, with almost half of it decimated and many jobs had been lost.
“Another closure will have another big impact on the industry. Only now we are seeing some activity and even now many bar owners are not seeing the kind of activity pre-COVID-19. Bills need to be paid. We are not seeing community spread so there’s no reason to compare us to other countries,” he said.
Some of the existing guidelines are that bars open from 8 am to 10 pm with 50 per cent occupancy, staff must wear proper personal protective equipment, patrons must sanitise before entering the establishments and tables must be spaced at six feet with no more than ten people to a table.