NO MASKS? No service!
With phase two of the reopening of the economy moved up by three days beginning on Thursday, the Prime Minister on Saturday encouraged proper hygienic practices and advised businesses to enforce a use-of mask-policy.
Dr Rowley, speaking at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's, announced both the construction and manufacturing sectors will be fully opened, and with an anticipated increase in people requiring public transport, he also announced a one-off $2,000 fuel grant to maxi taxis and taxis.
In speaking to businesses, he said, “no masks, no service” and encouraged the population to let their contribution to the fight against covid19 be the wearing of masks and other hygienic measures already in place to kill the virus. He added that from Monday, the Government will be updating the country three times weekly, Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays on the covid19 fight. The three daily updates from the Health Ministry will also be issued on those days and unless otherwise warranted, "no news will be good news."
“If you don’t have a mask I am sure you will have a bandanna near you. You don’t need the Government to tell you it is dusty or how to put a bandanna over yuh face. Let not that be a big problem,” Rowley said.
During her contribution, Dr Michelle Trotman said going forward the new normal will be sanitisation, separation and wearing of masks. She told the country to use a bandanna if they have no masks readily available and “let us wave covid19 away.”
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the Foundation for the Enhancement & Enrichment of Life (FEEL) has made between 30,000 to 40,000 masks to be distributed.
“There is no excuse that anybody could have not have a mask. You can take an old t-shirt and make up to five masks as I have done,” Deyalsingh said as Rowley interjected saying his wife, Sharon, “pleasantly surprised” him with a home-made mask.
Rowley also announced a “new patrol” which will see police and public health officials out monitoring and enforcing the Public Health Ordinances. Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said the country has roughly 100 health officials that will be deployed in this covid19 policing with additional support to come later. That additional support, according to Deyalsingh, will come from civilians who will be given a crash course and work alongside experienced public health officials. He added that the plan is new and he will be fleshing it out with the relevant authorities from Monday.
The phase two reopening will see all manufacturers and construction sectors of the economy, inclusive of the associated sectors that directly impact them such as quarries, opened. On May 9, Rowley ended a six-week stay-home restrictions by allowing food businesses to open and extended opening hours to groceries and hardware stores.
“If we do anything that results in us going back to the beginning and do the shut downs again and the stay homes, we will hurt more economically. The thing to do is to continue to measure the risk, follow the science and make opening-up decisions based on our understanding the threat that could come and also how much we have been successful,” said Rowley.
He added that since this will increase the number of people moving around and wanting to keep the covid19 figures as is, transportation restrictions will remain at 50 per cent capacity. To date the country has recorded 117 confirmed cases of covid19 with eight deaths. One person remains hospitalised up to Saturday.
“We will enforce it (public transport at 50 per cent capacity). We will ask the police to enforce it more than ever because we have more people outside than ever so it is more important now for that spacing to take place. Because we are doing that, the Minister of Finance will make available to all maxi owners, a fuel support grant of $2,000 to be made available immediately to support maxi taxi operators to be able to conduct their business and transport our people who have to and from work.”
Rowley gave a rough estimate of $6 million that will spent on this grant. This means there are approximately 3,000 registered maxis and taxis in the country will benefit. The $6 million allocated for the grant is part of the $6-billion budget announced by Finance Minister Colm Imbert last Tuesday to address covid19 state support.
Rowley reiterated that the stay-at-home policy remains in place for those who do not have to go to work and only come out for essential needs. He added that if there is a good result in phase two then phase three can begin sooner tham June 7. Phase three will be all public service personnel back out to work with flexi hours and possibly alternating days. Also in phase three there will be increase in public transport capacity from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.
“The biggest danger in managing this kind of crisis is self interest,” Rowley said as he called on each citizen to do their part adding that sacrifices will have to be made.
As for housekeepers and beauticians Rowley said he will instruct the Ministry of Social Development to give priority to them for social support.
“We know you are hurting, but, the circumstances are as such that your area is the area that poses the greatest threat. So we are asking you, even though we understand what you are going through, we can’t fix it, by easing up for you because that has the potential to capsize the whole thing. What we will do is, I will direct the social service ministry to ensure the assistance available to people in this category which is individual small business, to allow them some priority in the support services. That is the best we can do in this time and we will try to do that.”
In response to Rowley's announcements, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said while the $2,000 grant is “all well and good” for maxi and taxis, there is a large portion of the country still awaiting financial relief. Persad-Bissessar said the vast majority of citizens who work in the private sector have been home without any financial support for well over two months. She called on the Government to open up the economy to all businesses and have them implement safe work practice guidelines.