A sign on Mohammed’s Bookstore Associates Limited on High Street, San Fernando, informs customers that they will be closed from March 20 to April 4 to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That closure has since been extended.

Members of the Book Industry of Trinidad and Tobago (BIOTT) are calling on the Government to classify their bookstores as an essential service.

In an open letter to Education Minister Anthony Garcia, the organisation said they have been bombarded with calls from worried parents seeking to buy books for their children as the nation’s school are not scheduled to be opened until September.

BIOTT representative, Vivek Charran said all of the organisation’s members have complied with the restrictions put in place by the state to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

But Charran said with parents struggling to home school their children, BIOTT wants an opportunity for members to open under the same restrictions applied to hardware stores.

“BIOTT can confirm its valued members have been inundated with calls from parents wanting to purchase schoolbooks so their children can get a head start or from valued teachers, seeking further resources and literary tools for their students,” Charran said.

But customers are not just clamouring for educational books as Charran said parents are also seeking to use this time to encourage their children to read for pleasure.

“Our nation’s children are being deprived of novels, religious books, inspirational books, business books, storybooks to read. BIOTT can also confirm customers want colouring and activity books, writing practice books, and crayons as this is a critical time for these children to develop fine and gross motor skills.”

He said while the Ministry has gone to great lengths to promote distance learning, not all students have access to computers and the online classes they need to fulfil their education requirements.

“BIOTT acknowledges these are indeed strange times the country and indeed, the world faces. It would also be remiss of the Industry to not proudly commend our essential services, who protect the public from the ills and woes that may befall them. BIOTT, at this time, would like to put forward the point the continued education and growth of our twin-island nation are just as essential,” Charran said.

Guardian Media reached out to Education Minister Anthony Garcia, who confirmed that he had received BIOTT’s request.

Garcia said all he could say was the matter was being addressed, as he alone cannot make a decision to allow bookstores to open.

Asked when a decision might be made, Garcia said he could not give a timeline.