THE PRIME MINISTER said he might reconsider the recent lifting of the legal mandate to wear a mask against covid19 in public/shared spaces, in light of a WHO warning about two new emerging strains of the virus. Dr Rowley was addressing a media conference on Monday at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's.
While acknowledging how much people had wanted relief from covid19 protocols which had taken effect on Sunday, he said Trinidad and Tobago was still in the pandemic.
"Notwithstanding the fact that the restrictions have been removed, the virus is still around.
"It is still mutating, it is still creating variants, it is still dangerous, therefore we are still in a pandemic."
Rowley said the decision to remove covid19 restrictions was now open to discussion.
"But we must not take the position that the pandemic is over and that therefore we could just go back to business as normal. It is not normal."
He said the mask-lifting decision was made a few weeks ago but, since then, new strains had come to prominence.
"Interestingly enough in the few weeks since we took that decision to make it (mask lifting) effective yesterday (Sunday), the information coming in is that the BA4 and BA5 variants are in fact posing significant threats.
"They are in fact resisting the effect of the vaccination. They are in fact so structured, the virus is so responding, as to evade the attempts of the vaccines to prevent it from spreading. The BA5 is a public health risk."
He said the BA5 virus was causing problems akin to those of the delta strain, while being as virulent as the omicron strain.
The PM said just as TT has lifted its mask mandate, the WHO has advised otherwise – that countries should stay masked – even as he vowed to be guided by relevant science.
He said the WHO recommendations was basically advice, which the Government would mull.
"We will observe our circumstances and the behaviour of the virus and if as per our public health analysis of our situation and the potential of the virus (shows) that the wearing of the mask as a compulsory response is required in the near future, the Government will not hesitate in a return to compulsory masking."
Rowley said it was always known that covid19 vaccines waned over time. He said the BA5 variant seems to enter the pulmonary system much fast that the delta strain. Rowley said he was glad to see people still wearing masks in TT if in close contact and indoors, while no longer mandatory. Saying some workplaces still require masks, he asked the population to be co-operative with such requests, even as he hoped to slow down the local rate of infection amid a growing spread worldwide.
"Try to stay away from crowds. "