IN ABOUT two weeks, in-house dining, casinos, gyms, bars and cinemas will be allowed to resume operations having been designated as “safe zones” where everyone – customers, the business owners and their workers must all be vaccinated and have tangible evidence to prove their vaccination status.
This was revealed by the Prime Minister on Thursday during a press conference he hosted at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.
Dr Rowley also confirmed that schools will be reopened on October 4, but only for fully vaccinated students in forms 4-6. The opening of the “safe zones” will be on October 11.
“We will provide approval for restaurants, cinemas, bars that have restaurant service, entertainment places, NAPA, SAPA, Queen’s Hall, places like that, to be utilised by the population...but by the vaccinated population. Choice. If you are vaccinated, these facilities will be available to you. It will come into force from Monday, October 11,” Rowley said.
He reckoned TT now has half a million vaccinated individuals, but these must all show proof of vaccination to access the safe zones.
Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young, who also spoke at the press conference, reiterated that safe zones were only for the vaccinated population.
“They are going to be applicable, all other things being equal, from October 11, cinemas and theatres, NAPA, SAPA, Queen’s Hall, casinos and betting shops; bars and restaurants; gyms and fitness centres and those kinds of things; to vaccinated persons over the age of 12,” Young said.
“The owners of these safe zones are required to make sure all of the employees operating in these safe zones – for example a restaurant and a bar – are fully vaccinated. They (owners) will be required to have proof of vaccination of all their employees operating in the safe zone on the premises.
“The patrons in these premises can only be fully vaccinated people who will be required to walk with their vaccination cards, to provide it to the enforcement officers.” Enforcement will be by the police and public health officers, Young said.
He said establishment owners will be legally liable for ensuring their staff and patrons are fully vaccinated and must display a poster declaring their premises as being a safe zone. Any owner violating this duty, will be subject to a fine which is now being considered, and which could increase for repeat offences.
This tiered system of penalties could consist of a suspension for each of a first and second offence, and for a third offence a reversion to only a take-away food service excluding dining-in.
“Also in the first instance, because it is a big rollout, there will be no consumption of alcohol on premises. So the bars and restaurants, you are free to serve food, you are free to serve soft drinks, etcetera, but this is in the first instance because we want to get people back out.”
Capacity at any safe zone must not exceed 50 per cent of the usual capacity, Young said.
Rowley said rather than being new and oppressive measures, such strictures already exist such as a non-sale of alcohol to minors and the age-rating of movies at cinemas.
“So that model is already in place and we are using that model to treat with the virus which is now even more of a concern than what movie you watch or what drink you may drink as an under-aged person. This is a matter of life and death.”
Rowley also announced that from next Monday, the nightly curfew will move from a start time of 9 pm-10 pm. The 5 am end to the curfew remains in place.
The PM was asked for his view on safe zone owners seeking legal redress via the courts or under the Equal Opportunity Act for a perceived breach of their constitutional right to enjoy their property and exercise their business to all members of the public (both vaccinated and unvaccincated.)
“I expect that would be a very interesting development in the courts. What we do enjoy now is an equal opportunity of getting infected and an equal opportunity of ending up by Simpsons (a Funeral Home).”
Rowley said the alternative to safe zones with specific terms to operate was to maintain the status quo of bars, in-house dining, casinos, gyms and cinemas remaining closed.
Asked about the possibility of forged vaccination cards used to try to enter a safe zone, Rowley said this is a very serious crime and there are strict laws and serious consequences against such illegality. Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said vaccination cards can be cross-referenced to the ministry’s online database.
Young said he is considering increasing the fine for such falsification and allowing for digital evidence of vaccination and he expects the latter system to be ready for utilisation in six-eight weeks time.
“Right now data entry is taking place. Software is available.”
Rowley said the safe zones are a huge step for TT, amid an admission that the country and its people must accept the reality that people must adjust to live with the covid19 virus including its delta variant.