Residents of Penal and surrounding areas raise their candles in remembrance of murder victim Andrea Bharatt during a vigil at Mohess Road, Penal, in February.

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For just about two weeks, Ministry of Health officials have been warning citizens that COVID-19 cases are increasing again and on Wednesday, the country confirmed its largest number of cases for the year.

With this in mind, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith is urging both the Christian and the Shouter Baptist communities to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines this coming Holy Week.

In light of the rising COVID cases, Griffith yesterday said he will no longer be entertaining any requests by citizens seeking to hold vigils and marches.

In a release, the T&T Police Service said Griffith has instead asked that organisers be more innovative and have virtual events instead of gathering in their hundreds. This, the release said, includes the Stations of the Cross processions during Holy Week activities which start with Palm Sunday festivities over the weekend.

“This month marked one year since the virus has been with us. So far, 141 persons have died as a result of the virus and thousands were affected. The borders have been closed and there are restrictions in place to protect the country,” Griffith was quoted as saying.

“We have noticed over the past year, some events with large gatherings caused a spike in cases. The TTPS has been on the frontline ensuring that people observe the restrictions and adhere to the protocols. I know these upcoming events always attracted thousands of people, but this time we have to be careful. I am asking the organisers of these events to ensure that their followers do the right thing.”

The release noted that Griffith said over the past weeks he had been very accommodating to persons and groups who requested permission to hold vigils, protests, meetings and marches. It said the commissioner agreed to grant permission across the board because of the issues highlighted across the country and, more particularly, in light of the recent killings of several women.

But it said following the granting of these requests, some of them contravened the Public Health Ordinance Regulations, Section 3 (1), which states that a person shall not, without reasonable justification, be found at any public place where the number of persons gathered, at any time, exceeds ten.

It said Griffith had noticed that recent gatherings featured hundreds of persons although the organisers of the events tried their very best to control the crowds which had gathered. As a result, he said he will not be entertaining any requests at this time for vigils and marches.

However, president of the council of elders of Spiritual Shouter Baptists Archbishop Barbara Grey-Burke expressed frustration over Griffith’s announcement and the rise in cases.

“Is Baptist to celebrate now nuh, so COVID on the rise? All the time they giving permission for all these marches all over the place. COVID didn’t stopping nobody,” Grey-Burke said in a telephone interview.

“All of a sudden spike! COVID! Spike! What was going on with all those marches when the commissioner was giving permission?”

Despite this, she said Baptists will be obeying whatever regulations are in place come Tuesday when they celebrate the Spiritual Shouter Baptist holiday.

“Even though they against us we will serve God, because we accustomed with police running us, we accustomed with police jailing we elders, we accustomed with all of that but we not going to break the law,” Grey-Burke said, alluding to the turbulent history between those of the faith and the police during colonial rule.

She said there will be no celebrations this year despite their return to physical service. Instead, she said there will be a thanksgiving service and a celebration will be held when the COVID-19 outbreak lets up enough and it is safe to do so.

On Monday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said the country appears to be on the verge of a significant increase in COVID-19 cases. It came after an upsurge in cases recorded in county Caroni over the past two weeks, leading to an 89 per cent increase in cases.

Despite the concern over the increases, Parasram noted it was still too early and unclear whether the country is entering a third phase of infection.

The rise in cases has also prompted Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly to call a meeting with the Ministry of Health to discuss the April 12 resumption of in-person classes for Standard 5 students on April 12.

“We are meeting to weigh the circumstances, evaluate the last term and make a recommendation for the return of Standard 5 to physical classes,” Gadsby-Dolly told Guardian Media yesterday.