The Trinidad and Tobago Government Saturday announced a phased reopening of the country’s economy following the lockdown brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The twin-island republic will, however, keep its borders closed at least until June.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley revealed that schools will remain closed until September and religious institutions will not be allowed to gather for services as had been the case prior to the pandemic.
“What we are doing is tentatively returning to some semblance of commerce.”— Dr Keith Rowley, prime minister, Trinidad and Tobago
At a news conference, he cautioned citizens not to lower their guards while encouraging to keep following the prescribed measures to lower the spread of the COVID-19 — social distancing, wearing of masks and, in some respect, continue the stay at home policy.
Based on information from health authorities, Trinidad and Tobago has recorded 116 cases of the virus that had been first detected in China last December and blamed for nearly 300,000 deaths and more than three and a half million others infected worldwide. So far, the country has recorded eight deaths.
“We can’t let our guards down, do everything to preserve this situation and the only way we can do this…is to behave as if you are carrying the virus and observe all the hygiene practices,” Rowley said.
The prime minister told reporters that under the first phase of the reopening exercise, from May 12-23, food establishments, restaurants, street vendors, among others, will be allowed to open their businesses. However, there should be no in-service dining and there should be no of more than five people gathered.
Individuals may engage in outdoor exercises, he said, but they should always remember the various measures that have been implemented to prevent the virus from spreading.
The Government also announced that hardware stores, pharmacies and supermarkets will be allowed to operate within a 12-hour period and that the greenlight had been given to three companies involved in exporting products such as cement.
“What we are doing is tentatively returning to some semblance of commerce,” Rowley said, adding that testing would continue to ensure that there is no increase in cases of the virus here.
“This is the new normal,” he continued, noting that if during the first phase, there are no “worrisome change” in the current situation, the second phase would begin from May 24 until June 6.
Rowley said by the second phase, the whole manufacturing sector should be opened, as well as public sector construction work with public transport allowing for carrying 50 per cent capacity.
Under the third phase, which begins on June 7, the prime minister said all public servants “will come out to work”, even while the authorities may consider alternative days for employees to turn up for work.
He said that public transport capacity would be increased to 75 per cent and warned that progress going forward would be based on the island graduating back to a state of normalcy.
“The only response is to resort to what we have done and which we now has worked for us before,” Rowley said, adding “we don’t want to go into that direction”.
Prime Minister Rowley said he remains optimistic that places of entertainment — beaches, malls and cinemas — will open under the third phase.
On the issue of the borders, Rowley said he was pleased that his Administration had taken the firm decision to close them “because if our virus load in the population is so low, then the only place, other than our own population growing it here by misbehaviour…would be an inflow of infected people from the outside.
“And to prevent that from happening, we do not want to squander the good results of the sacrifices we have made, so we will maintain our border closure until we are satisfied that the external environment is such that we can accept into Trinidad and Tobago persons from heavily infected areas outside,” he shared.
In the meantime, the prime minister said he will allow the relevant authorities to make arrangements for those here who would want to leave.
“Trinidad and Tobago is not a prison…it is quite possible we might be able to allow some kind of traffic where people can leave if there is a need for that service. If that need is not there then we will just continue to stay battle down until we are satisfied that bringing people in on schedule flights is a sensible thing to do,” Rowley said.
Rowley said that since the airports had been closed, the authorities had allowed for controlled reopening to allow nationals to return to the island from places such as Barbados, Guyana and Suriname, insisting the closure “was a price the country had to pay to be where we are today.
“I want to remind this country that had we this very well internationally connected nation not taken the steps that we had taken and allowed ourselves to be penetrated in a way that the virus would have been in Trinidad and Tobago in such a concentrated way, that it could have overwhelmed our ability to manage and overwhelmed the health system we had put in place and of course lead to a significant number of deaths, the conversation would have been quite different,” Rowley said.
During the news conference, Rowley acknowledged that a number of Trinidad and Tobago nationals had died in North America and Europe as a result of the virus.
“Many of them died without even being able to get the kind of treatment that is commonplace in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said, adding “we have done surprisingly well because when we embarked on this we were cratering for the worse.
“What we have put in place and the results that w have got we can say thank God we haven’t got the worse.”