These Tranquility Government Primary school SEA pupils interact as they walk along St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, from their way to school.

Renuka Singh

Standard Five students have been reassured that they will be allowed back to school by April 12 once COVID-19 numbers remain at low levels.

However, the country’s borders will remain closed as there is no funding available to pay for a second national shutdown, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said last night.

Speaking during his Conversations with the Prime Minister, Rowley said that while people want the country to reopen its borders, one of the challenges is a second COVID-19 spike that would trigger a second lockdown. But he warned there is no money and no funding to be accessed if that has to happen.

“We are opening up slowly,” Rowley said.

“We have pretty much used up what wiggle room we had. That high price of a lockdown, let us avoid it.”

The Prime Minister called for more patience among the citizenry.

“The resources are not available. With the best will in the world, we would not find the money to give 50,000 or 60,000 people a paycheque every month,” he said.

“It is better to respect the threat that is before us.”

On March 13 last year, schools were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and an online system of teaching was implemented. By December, it was announced that virtual schooling would continue into this year. Fifth Form students preparing for exams were allowed to return to in-person classes on February 8. However, parents of Standard Five students, who are scheduled to sit the SEA exam on June 10, were anxious about when their children would get to return to classes.

In reassuring, Fifth Standard students that they would return to in-person class on April 12 once the COVID levels remained low, Rowley pointed out that nurseries and pre-schools were to remain closed. This was perhaps in reference to an incident earlier this week in which a two-year-old drowned at a school in Couva. Under the current COVID-19 protocols, the school should not have been operating.

With regards to the vaccine grab, Rowley said there was an agreement for the COVAX facility, with each country providing a pre-payment.

“The commitment was for 20 per cent of the population,” he said.

Rowley said the other 80 per cent would have to come from the open market.

The Prime Minister said he was confident that the vaccine situation would resolve itself and has spoken to governments across the globe who have the vaccine and are in a position to assist.

“And I have confidence that very soon, something positive is going to happen because the world cannot inoculate itself in one corner while the virus is threatening to mutate in another corner. That makes no sense,” he said.

“Ignore the lies, ignore the advice of the advisers who were wrong in the beginning, who were wrong in the middle and going to be wrong in the end,” he said.

He added, “Just a little patience.”