SOURCE- CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government Monday announced that only nationals would be allowed into the country for the next 14 days as it seeks to establish a sterile environment in a bid to curb the rise in the number of cases associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, speaking at a news conference following a special Cabinet meeting, said also that his administration would be embarking upon several other measures, including the closure of bars, schools, and new economic policies as the twin-island republic comes to grip with the virus after having so far recorded four positive cases within a 48-hour period.
“We have taken the decision that Trinidad and Tobago will cease to encourage and facilitate for the next 14 days entry into our country, except under exceptional circumstances, the entry of persons who are not nationals of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley told reporters.
He said the exemptions will come from the Minister of Health through the Minister of National Security.
Rowley said among those likely to be given exemptions are employees of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), which is the main agency conducting tests for most Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries on the virus, as well as health personnel “and similar essential persons who we need …
“Such persons would have to be exempt. Other than that we are basically disconnecting ourselves from the international community for the next 14 days,” Rowley said, noting that the decision will have far-reaching consequences for the state-owned Caribbean Airlines (CAL), “which incidentally has been doing quite well”.
He said in 2018, the airline was able to turn around its business and was reporting “tens of millions of dollars in profit for 2018, I think it was 54 million (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) …and on Saturday I was scheduled to speak at a function where CAL was going to report its performance for 2019, which was quite significant.
“I think the figure they were going to report was TT$124 million in profit, but now in a matter of weeks, the business of CAL and the future of CAL is now a matter for the Corporation Sole [Finance Minister] and we will do what we have to do at the company and at the level of the government to ensure that when this is over that we still have an airline….”
“But for the next 14 days we are required to shut down that operation except for nationals of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley said, adding that plans are underway to bring home 75 citizens “here in the Caribbean and I think they are elderly citizens, who are trying to make their way back home and we have to receive them because they are our citizens and we have no right or legal framework in which we can deny them entry, they are coming home”.
Rowley described the coronavirus situation as “an emergency crisis.
“There is no gainsaying that,” he said, noting that while the nature of the crisis “is temporary “as the virus settles itself among the human population, two months ago “we did not have that situation with us” But he said as his administration moves to deal with the crisis “we can’t allow the decision to be made on the basis of avoiding inconvenience or avoiding pain because there is no solution to this without some inconvenience and some pain that goes with the actions that are required to steer us away from worse case scenarios”.
Rowley said that his government had already taken note of the announcement by Germany, one of the largest economies in Europe of the impact of the virus and in drawing upon the strengths of his administration “will ensure that our actions are meant to leave no citizen behind”.
Rowley said that the government would be dipping into the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) that had been established for “rainy days like these” adding that the government intends to introduce legislation to the Parliament to by-pass the stringent measures included for accessing the fund.
He said the Finance Minister Colm Imbert will also outline some of the measures being taken to deal with the economic impact including the need to re-think the strategies for the reserves “we have for how many months of purchase …
“That yardstick is now just not an academic yardstick those reserves are …required to keep us alive because we will have to intervene to ensure that notwithstanding whatever else we do that there’s food and pharmaceuticals in Trinidad and Tobago because we have had to re-assess our priorities and we will have to keep assessing…but as of now given COVID-19 preservation of health and life in Trinidad and Tobago is priority number one”.
Prime Minister Rowley also disclosed that one of the foreign-based energy companies operating here had already taken a decision to “temporarily, I hope” shut down one of its plants in Trinidad and Tobago and Chile.
“This is as a direct result of the international market place has no space for what is being produced by these plants. The market place is saturated,” Rowley said, noting that this would mean economic losses for Trinidad and Tobago “and those are the kind of knock-ons and that’s what we are facing, what the world economy is facing”.
Rowley announced the formation of several committees, including one, chaired by the Finance Minister, and including members of the private sector, would report to him by Wednesday “when certain specific decisions would be made “
Rowley said that those decisions would be made in the context of the availability of funding and finance in the country, including foreign reserves, interest rates, and deferrals among other criteria.
“Those are the things that will come out of this committee and you will be advised as to what we are going to do specifically to treat with the consequences of the actions we are taking to keep the virus out.
“Because the actions we are taking will have far-reaching knock-on consequences and what I am saying to you here is that in recognition of that the government will have to take certain steps to bolster and buttress those persons, especially those who are most vulnerable”
Rowley said that Cabinet took a decision that ‘bars…where people gather to drink and socialise will be closed, because our objective is to deny the virus connection from person to person.
“We are instructing that gatherings beyond 25 be avoided at all costs except under unavoidable circumstances and in so far we are still functioning as a country going to work and doing things that we observe the space in between individuals …and we have most importantly the personal hygiene and personal responsibility conditions where we can’t tell you too often and too firmly that your personal conduct is a major part in the success or failure of these efforts’.
Rowley said that schools will remain closed until April 20 and criticised some religious groups who think they have a special line to God” for continuing to hold gatherings despite being informed of the consequences of their actions.
“The real danger is if we are skylarking, we are not cooperating and we get a level of national infection which overwhelms the health system,” he said, warning that if health care workers become sick “then all the rest of us are in a much more vulnerable position and the help that we need we will not get”.