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The announcement by the Minister of Finance yesterday that over 14,000 people applied for the Salary Relief Grant in just two days since the portal was launched is a stark indication of just how severely people’s lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a news conference, Minister Colm Imbert also indicated the relief measures would not only be accessible to citizens who lost their jobs or income in May, but those whose livelihoods have been negatively affected by the State of Emergency, as the assistance from the Government could stretch beyond the next two months and could incorporate employees from other impacted sectors.

This comes mere months after over 85,000 people received grants for job and incomes losses during the first wave of the pandemic in this country last year.

The Salary Relief Grants, along with the food baskets from Namdevco and the Income Support Grant from the Ministry of Social Development, are meant to cushion the financial blow thousands across the country have been dealt because of the worrisome rise of COVID cases and deaths from April into this month.

Although noted medical experts have forecasted that a decline in cases and deaths may come in a couple of weeks due to the restrictions on movements and gatherings, at the moment such hope remains miles away.

Yesterday, 708 cases were reported, by far the highest since the pandemic began in this country on March 12, 2020.

Seven more people also succumbed to COVID-19, taking the country alarmingly close to 400 deaths after galloping across the grim 300 milestone earlier this week.

Hospital occupancy rates still stand at a critical level, so much so that the new Point Fortin Hospital has been converted to provide 100 crucial bed spaces for the treatment of COVID-positive patients.

Although there has been good news on the vaccine front, with more doses coming in from this country’s regional and international neighbours, the situation when it comes to the coronavirus in T&T is at an intensely difficult level.

The COVID figures in the next coming weeks will serve as a turning point and determine how soon the country can reopen, the economic outlook and more importantly, how many deaths and cases are prevented.

This is why it was so disappointing to hear a citizen in a video circulating a demand that Government “open back up the country for people to eat and drink,” showing zero regard for the number of lives lost to the virus. What was doubly disappointing was to hear another man supporting those sentiments, knowing that many others felt the same.

Now more than ever before, the country cannot afford selfish, reckless and willful disregard for the health and safety of others and the law.

It has been less than a week since the State of Emergency and curfew were imposed and over 100 people have been arrested for breaching the curfew and scores more for violating health regulations by not wearing masks and even for keeping restaurants open.

Citizens would do well to use this dark time in the nation’s history as a way to reconnect with our watchwords of production, tolerance and in particular, discipline.