An unidentified employee of Buzzo restaurant on Warner Street, Port-of-Spain prepares a table, yesterday, ahead of today’s reopening and implementation of safe zones.

The Government’s TT Safe Zone initiative launches today with vaccinated employees of bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres, cinemas, waterparks, as well as licensed gaming houses, betting pools and private members’ clubs being able to open and serve vaccinated citizens.

Yesterday, employees worked long hours in preparation for the highly anticipated opening.

For restaurants, today will be the first time since April 29 that in-house dining will be permitted.

When Guardian Media visited Woodford Cafe at PricePlaza, in Chaguanas yesterday we met an electrician checking the bulbs on the restaurant’s exterior, while other employees cleaned its interior.

Part-owner Martin Hatem was also there to overlook preparations.

While he did not know what to expect in terms of turnout, he was still looking forward to the resumption of in-house service because business, he said, has been essentially non-existent.

Hatem said he will adhere to the Government’s policies, but he did express concern about the vaccinated-only entrance policy for in-house dining.

“I am not in agreement with the policy but it is what the Government wants to call a safe zone, so we are willing to try it and see how it works,” he said.

Saying it’s been very difficult to keep afloat financially, with only curbside and takeout options, he said many restaurants will be forced to shut their doors if in-house dining is prohibited again.

Over in Maraval, staff at the Blue Star Diner came out from 10 am yesterday to begin preparations.

As they worked, all members of staff, in full uniform, wore wristbands indicating that they were vaccinated.

Before discussing the diner’s plans for today, General Manager Debra Findlay sought to make it clear that “Staff who are not vaccinated, will not be at work.”

“We are excited to come back to work. It’s been basically 15 months, so we are very excited to get back to work,” she said.

Similar preparations were underway, from 7 am, at Trotters and Buzo Osteria Italiana.

According to the Operations Coordinator of Trent Restaurants, Victor Raymond, vaccinated members of staff were excited and mentally prepared to return to work.

He expressed confidence that everything was in place at both restaurants to meet the government’s safe zone policies.

“It’s simple. It’s simple. If you’re not vaccinated, you can’t enter. You have to identify yourself as a safe zone, so you have the safe zone at the entrance,” he said.

He added that the takeout option will remain available for unvaccinated customers.

In San Fernando, 519 restaurant at C3 Centre was fully prepared to resume in-house service.

“We have everything in place to follow all the protocols. All our staff is fully vaccinated. We will not be selling alcohol—it’s only to go. We also have curbside pickup for those who are not vaccinated,” general manager Kathleen Sammy said.

With gyms reopening for the first time since late April, preparations were already complete at Evolution Fitness, in Chaguanas, by the time Guardian Media arrived.

General Manager Rhondell Brown said all equipment was in place and sanitized, while a system to ensure the gym does not become overcrowded was in effect.

He said, as for now, there will be no time limit for customers because there was ample space on the three floors of the gym.

“I think I’ll be up at 3 am just anticipating the curfew, so as soon as 5 am hits, I’ll head out to work. I’m really excited because this is my zone, this is my career. I will be thrilled to start back to work,” Brown said.

Guardian Media visited several bars in central and west Trinidad but observed no preparations taking place.

Under TT Safe Zone policy, alcohol is not allowed to be consumed at bars or restaurants.

Protest against Safe Zones

And as businesses prepared for the TT Safe Zone launch today, eight people, including the leader of the First Wave Movement Umar Abdullah protested around the savannah yesterday.

Abdullah, with a Trinidad and Tobago flag in hand, said the group was there to pray for the nation and its citizens and leaders. Abdullah said people ought to push back against the Safe Zone system.

“It’s going to fail. Businesses and the entertainment industry will be relying on a small group of people to sustain their businesses. They won’t be able to pay their rent. They won’t be able to pay their workers,” he said.

According to the Government’s TT Safe Zone policy, only vaccinated people (12 years and over) are allowed to enter safe zones. They must present proof of vaccination and identification.

Businesses must also have TT Safe Zone signage at all entry points.

Owners and operators of businesses found in breach of safe zone regulations face a fixed penalty fine of $25,000, while customers are subject to a fixed penalty fine of $5,000.