THE Prime Minister announced that domestic workers and personal services employees (such as barbers, hairdressers and nail salon technicians) will be allowed to return to work from August 23. He also announced that Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) workers will join their counterparts in the retail sector in returning to work on Monday. He made these statements at a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's on Saturday. But in doing so, Rowley said neither he nor anyone else in TT could give any assurance that covid19 restrictions which have been relaxed so far, could not be reintroduced if circumstances involving the management of the virus in the country changed.
He said the reopening of the retail sector on Monday "will be a big, big step." Referring to data being provided at previous briefings and the virtual health news conferences by epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds, Rowley said, "We are doing these things and we are coming in and our other activities are being done at a time when we are not at the zero level. We are not covid sterile. There is still a fair amount of covid in the population."
He cautioned, "It could get out of hand, if people are irresponsible. Remember it's all about not congregating, keeping the hygiene going, wearing your mask and just being basically sensible and add to that, vaccination, and then we can continue to do the work."
Rowley said URP and CEPEP workers will also return to work. "Our roads and by-ways and highways are now becoming overgrown, overrun," he said. He said there were instances in the past where URP and CEPEP workers were "congregating to lime and compare their hairstyle..to be covered under the same blanket.
"We are asking the organisers to spread out the workers to get the work done safely."
To domestic workers and personal service employees, Rowley said, "We expect that by now you would have been busy being vaccinated." He added, "So those of you who are using personal services...it is your option to enquire as to whether persons coming close to you, have in fact got themselves in a relative safe zone."
To those who want to play Russian Roulette with covid19, Rowley said, "In this population of 1.4 million we have 3,300 hospital beds (in the normal public health sector)." In the parallel health care system, he said there are 1,032 beds. 'So don't think I could play the Russian Roulette and if I do get knocked down, it's a given that when I get to the hospital, they will be waiting there to receive me. They will be waiting there to give me a bed and they will be waiting there to fix me."
Rowley said neither he nor anyone else could give an assurance that restrictions could not be re-imposed if the situation with covid19 gets worse. "This is something that is beyond me." Rowley did not know whether Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram with his long medical experience could give an assurance as to how things would go at the community or individual level with respect to responding to covid19.
He said the broader picture is being looked at. Rowley said if the protocols have been working and caution is exercised in a methodical way, even if there are slight increases in cases, it is possible to manage the situation. "If the opposite becomes the reality, then we cross that bridge when we come to it."
Reminding reporters that he had covid19 in April, Rowley said no one is safe from the virus. "I got covid. I had no idea how I got it because I was following the protocols."
Fortunately, he added he did not reach a stage which required a higher level of medical care. "This is not something to be picking and choosing about and nobody can give you any assurance."
He also reminded reporters that since the pandemic began, many people have been saying and doing things which have been unhelpful to TT's response to covid19. "Any assurance that you get from anybody on this is not worth anything."