PM: Don't blame Tobago for covid19 increase

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley -
Photo by Vidya Thurab
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley - Photo by Vidya Thurab

THE Prime Minister said on Wednesday that reduced compliance with covid19 regulations all over Trinidad and Tobago is behind the recent increase in covid 19, cases, not people going to spend Easter in Tobago.

Dr Rowley, who tested covid19-positive on April 6 while in Tobago, and is still in quarantine there, made this declaration after the Health Ministry announced new public health measures to curb the rising number of covid19 cases.

These included no public gatherings for entertainment and concerts, the public service returning to 50 per cent office attendance on a rotational basis, congregations at places of worship being reduced from 50 to 25 per cent and numbers at weddings and funerals being limited to ten people.

At 9 am, Rowley met virtually from the Prime Minister's official residence in Blenheim, Tobago, with Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and their respective teams on the national covid19 response.

The new public measures were announced at the Health Ministry's virtual news conference at 11 am.

In a subsequent statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, Rowley said, "The problem of reduced compliance is all over the country and should be seen as such if we are to rectify the situation and get back to a level that could see us rolling back the recent restrictions."

He rejected attempts by some people who he said were trying to blame Tobago for the increase in covid19 cases. Among this group, Rowley included "politicians with nothing useful to contribute to be trying to establish that our current circumstances are as a result of a successful Easter weekend in Tobago."

Rather, he said, "It is not where you spend your time it is what you do there."

Rowley continued, "For those who see political opportunities in these trying circumstances, I want to remind them that even before Easter the areas of spiking community spread were in County Caroni and County Victoria (in Trinidad)."

He added, "Subsequently, the third most affected zone was St George East (also in Trinidad)."

The Chief Medical Officer's (CMO) data sheets today, he said, showed the location of accelerating increases of confirmed viral infection continued to be to these three areas.

In light of this data, Rowley declared, "To set about to separate the people of Tobago or their tourism economy for special hatred is misleading and just plain wrong.

"It is in this regard that I reject any attempt to misrepresent the facts and the placing of blame on Tobago for hosting a few thousands who chose to spend their time in that part of the country with family and friends or just strangers enjoying the ambience that exists there."

He reminded the population that well before the Easter vacation, he spoke with them about this period, other holidays and religious celebrations.

"I appealed for a national recognition of our coming vulnerability and asked that even as we were getting tired of the stresses that there were dangers if we relaxed and benefits to be had if we complied with an improved sense of personal responsibility."

In response to "the unwelcome rising numbers" of infections and patiens needing hospital care, Rowley said, "I have authorised some further restrictions on the exposure and movements of the population."

He hoped citizens will see the need for these actions and comply with them.

"From the very onset of this pandemic, we as a nation took the approach that we will rely on a national co-operating effort to minimise and suppress the virus until it can be overcome."

That approach is still valid, he said.

"I ask fellow citizens to do their individual parts in order to bring us the results we desire."

He accepted that not every citizen will see it this way.

"What we have to guard against," he urged, "is allowing the circumstances of the pandemic to further destroy us as a people wanting the best for ourselves, our families, our communities and our nation."

Rowley appealed to citizens for their individual co-operation.

"This and our abiding faith in God will see us through."

On April 18, Rowley questioned claims by the Opposition UNC about how previously reintroduced covid19 restrictions would harm the economy. Those measures included the closure of beaches and a ban on in-house dining in certain eating places.

"If we don’t do any disruption now as the UNC is demanding, will the economy be better off in a full-blown covid19 takeover eventually requiring full-scale lockdown as some countries are currently experiencing?"

At that time, Rowley said, "Incidentally, the spike we are facing now didn’t start in Tobago. Well before Easter, the CMO's maps showed a progression from deep south to Caroni to the East-West Corridor."

In a media report on April 9, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan said over 50,000 people travelled between Trinidad and Tobago on the airbridge and seabridge for the Easter weekend. He said the figure represented a seven-day count of travel between the islands.

“What was astonishing is that we have not heard anyone complain about the efficiencies of the seabridge and the airbridge. I want to congratulate the people at CAL (Caribbean Airlines), the people at the port and the people at NIDCO (National Infrastructure Development Company) for doing a fantastic job because we had in excess of 50,000 people moving back and forth and everything ran smoothly even though we are in a pandemic.”

Sinanan said Holy Thursday and Good Friday were the two days recorded with the highest number of passengers, both by air and sea. He added an increase in travellers between the islands was also seen the weekend before Easter.

Sinanan said the fast ferries continue to operate at 75 per cent passenger capacity and all other guidelines in keeping with covid19 protocols.


"PM: Don’t blame Tobago for covid19 increase"

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