Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks at a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, yesterday.

Back to gatherings of 10 and reduced public service numbers from tomorrow.

And if COVID-19 cases continue increasing, Government will “take action” on the upcoming August 10 General Election.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gave these directions yesterday as he announced reinforced measures to deal with a surge of localised COVID cases.

This has caused T&T to beat a hasty retreat back to reducing numbers out in the public—plus it’s now raised question marks on whether the election, due in 10 days’ time, would be held due to public safety.

Special voting begins on Monday and continues to August 9.

Rowley’s latest COVID counter-action came yesterday at a media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, moments after Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram gave details of the latest 31 COVID cases, which have brought T&T total to 169. He said there’s been an evolution in the epidemic with a surge of cluster infections, which includes people who become infected at bars.

Rowley said the change in the numbers recently were much more than T&T had become accustomed to in the last six to eight weeks. But he said Government had expected that with the virus, it was likely and possible to move from having nothing to report on cases, to having additional infections.

He said the number of infected people has jumped and T&T’s in a slightly different situation “…Not as the public might think but our circumstances have changed a little bit.” Rowley said fortunately, the system was working to deal with the cluster situation but Government was required to reduce the public’s exposure and movement—and if that can be done, it would be key in confronting the situation.

“We have to respond now and we’re going to, not through panic for preservation but to reduce the amount of contact likely to happen,” he said.

The first main step will be to roll back the number of people allowed to gather—from 25 to 10. The latter was the number allowed during T&T’s lockdown in the first wave of the virus. Public Health ordinances will be changed over the next 24 hours to allow this to begin from 6 am tomorrow, Rowley said, adding this will be the fundamental response to reducing the number of people exposed.

But he said the numbers of people attending churches and funerals and working indoors with social distancing will remain untouched. People can attend gatherings but should do so in groups of 10, spaced according to social distancing protocols.

Also, the Public Service will be asked to reduce the numbers of public servants out at any one time over the next two weeks. This will be done by use of alphabetical listing or rotations. He said that will also reduce the numbers of people out by 50 per cent. The same won’t apply to the private sector. But if it reaches a situation where further reduction is needed and in the private sector, that will have to be done—but not unless absolutely necessary.

Government is keeping watch on public transport and that may require intervention if the trend in the next 72 hours into next week continues.

Government will also keep watch on the SEA exam pupils for the next few days as well.

“If this trend continues in any significant way, next Monday or Tuesday, we’ll have to act on the school system. We’ll keep this under active watch as contact tracing continues,” Rowley said.

On the planned September 1 reopening of schools, he said if there was no SEA there would be no results to have students enter new schools.

Rowley noted the direct link found between people infected in bars and restaurants and said a close watch will be kept on such areas in the next few days.

“Anytime we get further information on this continuing, we’ll act to further reduce public exposure.”

He said if T&T continues to have the same numbers going forward, more drastic action will have to be taken.

“We’re pretty much in watch mode and to make decisions if things go in certain directions.”