Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said despite encouraging statistics over the past few weeks, the authorities cannot afford to drop their guard and risk having to impose stricter lockdown measures later on. However, he said the encouraging news had led them to make certain adjustments to some of the current restrictions.
Among the changes announced during yesterday’s media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, was an increase in the numbers of persons allowed to gather in a group in public; an increase in the numbers allowed to attend funerals; an increase in the daily domestic flights between both islands; and a resumption of tours at the Caroni Swamp and the Buccoo Reef in Tobago.
He expressed disappointment with public servants who have been abusing the 50 per cent rotation system and were not showing up for work when required.
“It’s like a general free for all. That is not what we expected,” he said.
“This response about staying at home and being paid is not a joke. Public servants must come out to work when they have to and stay at home when they are rostered to do so.”
Rowley warned of tough measures to ensure compliance: “We still need to reduce the amount of people interacting. We will continue to require a 50 per cent rotation in the Public Service. The Head of the Public Service will instruct managers to keep a written roster at all stations and public servants are required to rotate.
Rowley said they are slowly trying to move back to some semblance of normalcy in T&T without being too eager.
He said in order to keep Tobago going, it was necessary to increase the quota of Caribbean Airlines flights to six per day. While beaches and rivers remain off-limits to the public, they are willing to allow public tours to the Buccoo Reef once public health measures are imposed. However, no snorkeling or swimming will be allowed during these tours.
Looking back at what it had cost the State during T&T’s sporadic phase, Rowley said: “It was at a tremendous cost to the nation…that cost was borne by the taxpayers themselves through the State expenditure, by the private sector through the loss of production and business, and even people’s savings were used up during that period.”
Claiming a lot of what had been provided was “based on borrowed money,” he said the country incurred significant debt in an attempt to support citizens during the initial period. He said to ignore this in favour of a full return to business and risk another lock-down would be “cavalier.”
He said should this occur, calls would once again be made for financial assistance to citizens and “unfortunately for Trinidad and Tobago, we do not have the wherewithal to fund another lockdown in that way.”
Places of worship, restaurants, bars, and beaches will remain off-limits for another two weeks. Rowley said if there is no significant upward tick in numbers, further changes would be announced by October 24. He urged citizens to behave responsibly when celebrating the Halloween holiday later this month.
And with the Divali and Christmas holidays looming, he said they are hopeful the sacrifices being made now would allow for those to be celebrated when it is time.
National Security Minister Stuart Young announced that although borders remained closed, for the time scheduled flights are being accommodated to allow the repatriation of nationals and also those wanting to depart for work, school and business abroad.
He said the total number of exemptions granted to enter T&T as at October 6 was 5,284; while the number of exemptions granted to leave as up to that date was 7,208.
Young said they had observed an increase in the number of applications from persons wanting to return to T&T within recent weeks.
He warned about persons seeking to create mischief and “tricking” others by claiming they had faster methods to secure exemptions from the ministry as he said they were in possession of a list of applicants and would be prioritising their return.
Young said outstanding applications numbered 7,100; while Rowley claimed over 330,000 persons who call T&T home, remained outside.