AFTER battling the covid19 virus with the rest of the world for the last two years, Trinidad and Tobago is ready to begin transitioning from dealing with covid19 from the pandemic to the endemic phase.
A disease which is prevalent throughout the world is classified as a pandemic. An endemic disease is one which is regularly found among particular people or in a certain area.
While the world remains in the grip of the pandemic and TT must be able to respond to the emergence of any new covid19 variant, the Prime Minister said some of the measures the Government has implemented over the last two years to curb the spread of covid19 will be relaxed.
These include families travelling unmasked in private vehicles, increased numbers of people at places of worship and funerals, public transport being allowed to operate at 100 per cent capacity, public gatherings of up to 25 people being allowed, all public servants reporting for work on Monday (March 7) and the restart of team and contact sports.
But among the covid19 measures being retained is continued mask-wearing in public spaces.
Dr Rowley made these announcements in the House of Representatives on Friday. He recalled the events which TT and the rest of the world have had to endure since the pandemic began on March 11, 2020,.
Rowley was satisfied that to date, the Government "has done all that could reasonably have been expected to be done to preserve lives and balance the restoration and preservation of our economy."
TT, he continued, now stands at another milestone moment as it decides how it will live with covid19.
"It is time for us to allow for greater discretion and personal responsibility to prevail in the society," he declared.
But he underscored that TT must be ready at a moment's notice to intensify its covid19 response should new variants emerge.
"As a responsible government, at this time we cannot afford to abandon all of our public health measures which have served us well throughout the course of the pandemic."
Hence, he said, "Appropriate mask-wearing is an essential public health measure which should be retained at this time, especially due to the circulation of the extremely infectious omicron variant, which lends itself to aerosolisation and to significantly asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic disease."
Last December, the World Health Organization (WHO) re-emphasised the importance of continued mask use in light of the omicron variant.
"As such, mask use will remain in force at this time in all public spaces and places where there is public interaction."
But Rowley said, "Families will no longer be required to be masked in their vehicles. This change will also apply to marine vessels being used by families."
Restrictions will be lifted on the time allowed for for religious services and the numbers of people allowed to be present in places of worship for those services. But Rowley said, "Mask-wearing will continue to be required during services at religious places of worship."
The numbers of people allowed at graveside funerals will be be unrestricted. But Rowley added, "Mask-wearing is mandatory (at graveside funerals) for the time being."
Unvaccinated nationals returning to TT will have their quarantine reduced from 14 to seven days. He said they can be discharged from quarantine it they receive a negative PCR test on the seventh day.
"We will decrease the national quarantine time (for contacts of positive cases) from 14 to ten days. Rowley said, "This would allow for increased productivity and a decrease in the likelihood of staffing shortages, especially amongst the essential services."
He observed the Health Ministry recently reduced the isolation time for positive patients from 21 days in all categories to ten days for people with no symptoms and 13 days for those with moderate to severe disease.
These people, Rowley continued, can be discharged in accordance with the discretion of county medical officers of health.
He announced that a maximum of 25 people will be allowed to gather in public. The previous numbers allowed ranged from five-15, in response to the number of covid19 cases at the time.
Team and contact sports, previously forbidden under the public health regulations, will now be allowed.
On establishments already allowed to operate under law as covid19 safe zones for vaccinated or exempted people and children under 12, Rowley said they can now operate at 75 per cent capacity. They have been operating at 50 per cent capacity since the safe zones were launched last year.
Once there are no dangerous development with respect to covid19, Rowley said, "We will permit all children to return to physical schooling in term three."
The Education Ministry, he continued, will put out the necessary guidelines to safely manage this process.
The parallel health care system, established in 2020 to deal with covid19, he said, has proved its resilience and ability to protect the population from the many waves of covid19 over the last two years. Rowley said the population can be comforted by the fact that this system "can be readily escalated, or de-escalated, based on specific needs."
He confirmed that on Thursday, Cabinet approved the Health Ministry's recommendation for "the consolidation, and de-escalation of the parallel healthcare system, in preparation for the transition from the acute phase to the endemic phase of covid19."
But no hard timelines will be set for this to happen. Rowley said this is because "we have learnt that circumstances can rapidly change which may necessitate consequent adjustments."
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, he continued, will present a plan next week that will see a return of the health care system to as near as possible a normal state, as TT transitions from the acute to the endemic phase phase of covid19.
"The proposal will be implemented on a phased basis based on real-time risk assessment, starting with (the) Point Fortin (hospital)." The Point Fortin Hospital was recently removed from the parallel health care system.
Confident that most of the population will respond to the gradual lifting of covid19 restrictions with "dignified restraint," Rowley reminded citizens to remain vigilant because the virus continues to claim lives and is still with us.
In the context of common sense and covid19, he said, "We have agreed now to add responsibility to our list of (national ) watchwords (of discipline, tolerance and production).
While reiterating the need for caution, he concluded, "We look forward to being able to confidently join others who have already declared the virus endemic.
Covid19 restrictions to be relaxed:
Families travelling in private vehicles and private marine vessels can be unmasked.
Increased numbers of people at religious services and graveside funerals.
Increased length of religious services
Public gatherings of 25 people allowed
Public transport may operate at 100 per cent capacity.
All public servants back to work on March 7.
Establishments designated as covid19 safe zones can operate at 75 per cent capacity.
Return of team and contact sports.
9.Decreased national quarantine (for contacts of positive cases) from 14-ten days.
Unvaccinated nationals returning to TT have a reduced quarantine from 14-seven days.
Gradual de-escalation of the parallel health care system.
Still in place:
Mandatory mask-wearing in all public spaces and places where there is public interaction remains in effect, along with washing hands/ santising, and physical/social distancing protocols.