In light of fluctuating numbers in new infections within the past two weeks and to maintain the country’s efforts in containing the covid19 virus, the Prime Minister has announced there will be no state-sponsored Christmas parties in the public sector this year.
“I will instruct the head of the public service from Monday to instruct the ministries of Government departments and through the Ministry of Finance, to instruct the state enterprises that part of our virus control response that there is to be no state-sponsored or any Christmas party in the public sector in 2020,” he said.
Dr Rowley made the announcement on Saturday during a news conference at the Division of Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour, Glen Road, Scarborough, Tobago.
He urged the private sector to adopt the same approach and encouraged families to limit family gatherings for the festive season as well.
Noting Christmas parties generally encourage congregating, Rowley alluded to the leader of a particular church in the US, who, early in the pandemic, encouraged its followers to attend church, “on the grounds that his faith was so great that the virus has no power in the house of God and encouraged people to come to the church.”
He said within a week, the church leader was dead.
“So, while we acknowledge the birth of Christ and have been doing so for centuries, in 2020, let us do it without partying and, therefore, there is no Christmas celebration in the public sector.”
Rowley acknowledged the measure will affect those who support Christmas parties – parang groups and those who supply the food and drinks.
“But what this is about is to prevent people from congregating and being infected over the Christmas season, which will threaten us in January.”
He said if the rate of new infections escalate as a result of laxed behaviour over the Christmas season, the Government will not consider an re-opening of school in mid-January.
Rowley also said bars, whose owners have been clamouring to be re-opened fully over the past few weeks, will remain restricted to take-away services.
He said the bar environment also naturally lends itself to congregating.
“Today, there are people expecting us to open bars further because bars are open to sell as much beer and rum as they wish. What is not open is bars being allowed to invite people to congregate inside of bars.”
He continued: “Let me repeat that. Bars are open in Trinidad and Tobago to sell as much alcohol as possible. There is no restriction on the sale and consumption of alcohol in this country, whether from bars or supermarket or anything else.
“What is on restriction is the invitation to people to come and congregate indoors at bars over alcohol. That is a restriction and, unfortunately, we will maintain that restriction because that congregation is the danger.”
In this regard, Rowley announced fresh proposals to mitigate the fallout of the restrictions imposed on bar and restaurant workers with a $10 m payout for affected workers.
Rowley also insisted no special concessions will be granted to Trinidadians who are abroad but want to come home for Christmas as the country’s borders will remain closed.
He said exemptions will be considered on a case by case basis.
Rowley said the Government reasoned that people who were stuck overseas in March and had not applied to return to TT by August, “then you really were not coming back home."
Rowley said of the 350,000 citizens currently abroad, the majority of whom live in the US, many of them want to come home, including one of daughters.
“Those persons are also required to apply to come here.”
He added: “We don’t just open the border and let them in for the simple reason that the United States is now one of the most highly infected countries in the world, not just New York, not just Florida but across the United States.
“Unfortunately, that is so. We can’t do anything about that. But if we open it and they come in by the thousands, the very system which we have put in place which is the parallel health system, will collapse.”
He said within that population of likely people who can come in infected “when that population joins us here in Trinidad and Tobago, if we get spikes generated by that and we end up with people who need healthcare beyond the capacity that we have put in place to treat with people who would need high intensive health care, that is when we will fall down.”
Rowley said people wanting come home should get a PCR test within 72 hours.
But he acknowledged such a test is not available in many instances “and the fast test in many cases is not the standard we want.
“But we are now discovering that it may be possible through CAL and the CMO office, there is another test that persons can use, which persons abroad can get to allow them to be screened.”
Rowley said the Government wants as many people as possible to come home for Christmas.
“So, we have a protocol in place where, if you’ve got the test and you want to go into the state quarantine because we have to maintain the state quarantine.
“If we don’t quarantine, then everything that we have done since March will fall apart.”
Rowley said people who arrive in TT must go into quarantine, which is free.
“And if you do not want to go into the state quarantine and you are prepared to accept your exemption and pay for quarantine in designated hotels under state supervision, that is also available and that will allow a larger number of persons to come home for Christmas.
“But for whoever comes in, there is a six-day element for quarantine. The sixth day is testing and if the seventh day is negative, you can be home for Christmas.”
Rowley said people desirous of coming home for Christmas must travel at least a week before the holidays “otherwise you will spend Christmas in quarantine.
“Once you get an exemption and you turn up at the airport with your test, whether it is a PCR or otherwise, then you come home to TT and there is a six day quarantine and on the seventh day you can go home and remain with your family.
“But even while you do that, we ask you to remain family focussed.”