For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, the population is being told TT’s borders could reopen soon and people who want to return to the country will be able to do so without having to go through an exemption process.
On Friday, the Prime Minister met with a team of ministers and Caribbean Airlines (CAL), and in the coming week, that team will again meet with CAL to make further arrangements to open the borders in the next four-six weeks, “barring any flare-up or general misconduct.”
He also said TT would be getting more vaccines, enough for the government to set a new target of vaccinating 500,000 people – about half the adult population.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said with the additional vaccines the country had the capacity to vaccinate 300,000 people a month using all the health centres across the country as well as mobile units. He said in three months 900,000 people could be vaccinated.
In the meantime, there will be new, extended weekend curfew hours.
Dr Rowley made the announcements on Saturday at a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.
“As we vaccinate, and as vaccination has been accelerated in North America in particular, the situation is different now. The populations of North America and the Caribbean can now more easily mix, and we are better able to manage people coming into the country.
“And I look forward to the day when nobody would have to ask permission to come home, but you qualify to get in under certain circumstances, which are your responsibility, and not for the government to tell you yea or nay.”
He said CAL would fly scheduled flights, one of the requirements for entry would be vaccination, and there would be “controls and categorisations of people’s conditions.” Further information will be available by the end of next week.
Despite this relaxation of policy, he gave no hint as to any early opening of the economy, which remains closed at least until July 4, though he spoke of the logistics of that process, which will also involve vaccination.
Instead, Rowley announced further restrictions to help things go “in the right direction faster” in the form of longer weekend curfew hours. As of June 6, there will be a 7 pm-5 am curfew. The new ten-hour curfew will continue every weekend for the month of June, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
More vaccines coming
Rowley said a “significant shipment” of Sinopharm vaccines, more than the 100,000 doses donated by China in May, should arrive in the country on Thursday. Through bilateral discussions, the government arranged to buy vaccines directly from China and made a payment recently.
Another source of vaccines will be the African Medical Supply Platforms. At the level of Caricom, TT aligned with the organisation and is in line to get 800,000 doses of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) one-dose vaccine. The first batch is expected to arrive in August.
At some point he also expects to receive the third shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from the Covax facility.
“Within 12 weeks, depending on the shipping arrangements, we would be able to vaccinate a substantial (number) of people. Our first target is half a million people in this country, and based on the irons we have on the fire, we can now, as I mentioned last week, begin to accelerate our vaccination programme…
“We can now fairly reasonably say that we are at the beginning of what is required to bring this infection under control, to have some semblance of normalcy (sic) returning to our country and our lives, where we live with the virus as a vaccinated population, where the virus infection, the rates of hospitalisation and, dare I say, the rate of deaths, would be considerably lower, and managed in a way that we get the least effect of the virus.”
Rowley added that the US had pledged to make additional vaccines available through Covax, so TT may get more vaccines than initially expected. The US has also pledged six million vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean. He stressed, however, that six million vaccines among 400 million people would not go very far.
Even so, he hoped by September 1, and when schools reopen in September, the country would be in a better position with respect to covid19.
He explained, “When I say that by September we should be in a position of vaccinating upwards of the two-thirds that we’re aiming at, I did not include what may come to us from this American initiative. But we anticipate that in the June/July period, we will be receiving vaccines in addition to what I’ve outlined here.
“And when we put all of that together, we should be able to have met the biological requirement of vaccinating so many people in this country that the virus would not be as virulent as it could be, because our population would be in a better position to respond.”
TT was not yet considering vaccinating children, he said, as the position of the World Health Organization (WHO) was to refrain from vaccinating children because of the demand for vaccines for adults.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said WHO had approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 16 and older, but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted approval for children 12 and over.
Rowley added that if the vaccination programme for adults was “sufficiently well done,” the government would consider vaccinating children.
“That is not in front of us now, but if children-approved vaccines become available we will use them. Either we will purchase them or, if we get gifts, we will use them. But we only will use WHO-approved vaccines on our children.”