Fri | Jun 18, 2021

T&T declares State of Emergency to battle COVID-19 surge

Published:Saturday | May 15, 2021 | 3:54 PMCMC
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Keith Rowley (file photo).

Trinidad and Tobago has declared a State of Emergency (SOE) and an eight-hour daily curfew, as a "scared population” looks to the authorities to implement new measures to deal with rising numbers of deaths from COVID-19 and infections.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, speaking at the weekly news conference of the Ministry of Health, said the SOE will go into effect at midnight. The curfew will be from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. (local time) daily.

“The state of emergency will remain in place until it has expired or continued,” he said, noting that under the law, the SOE will remain in place for 90 days in the first instance.

“If you don't have to be out for exempted reasons, please stay home,” Rowley said.

Trinidad and Tobago has recorded 9,900 active cases of the virus and 265 deaths since the pandemic was declared last year.

Rowley told reporters that it has now dawned on the population that the disease should be taken very seriously, acknowledging that he has also come to the realisation that the population is fearful.

“I am sorry that it has come to coffins and faces of dead people for us to realise that we are in and have always been in a very difficult place. Before we were only dealing with numbers, but I think the population is at the stage now where the numbers are being seen to be of people even known to you," he said.

He continued: “Some of the people who have [died] recently have been known to all of us either in the work that they do or the places they have been or just who they are. So we are no longer dealing with numbers, we are now dealing with 21 deaths in one day and if you bring that down to per hour, it is almost one person dying every hour."

Situation frightening

Rowley called the situation frightening and warned that if the situation is allowed to multiply “very soon we will be happy when it is only 21, because it could go to a number where 21 is a great improvement…because the more we are allowing ourselves to be infected that population of infected people would generate a large percentage of sick people and will generate a larger population of dead people."

Rowley said it is not feasible to shutdown the whole country. He said workers in essential services would be allowed to function to prevent the rest of the population from engaging in excess buying and causing panic.

Rowley said entities such as gas stations, pharmacies, supermarkets, will be allowed to operate within the eight-hour period, "but the other areas we will shutdown completely."

“We were carrying a balancing act life and livelihood all the time," Rowley said, noting that the government is, at this time, prioritising the lives and health of citizens. 

Rowley said the government had tried “very hard” to stay away from imposing the SOE and the curfew, but reminded the population that “virtually every country in the world” is now experiencing a new wave of the pandemic.

“We had a first wave, a second,, we are having a third and of course we just [should not] panic. This does not call for panic. We never panicked, we looked at it squarely in the eye and decided what is required of us and this is what if required of us at this time."

PM pleads for citizen cooperation

Rowley said he is hoping the population will fully cooperate with “these hard measures...

"To try to avoid this now is to prolong the twilight period and to also allow a situation where what you have seen outside the hospitals…where those who are dying are dying because they cannot get a breath of oxygen, we are trying to avoid that," he said.

Rowley said he has been made aware of people seeking to purchase oxygen tanks, but said “there is a shortage of oxygen tanks."

"What that means is that some people in our population have come to the realisation that a breath of oxygenated air is what stands between you and death. That's how serious it is,” he said, adding that “we are taking steps to face even the most difficult outcome whenever it comes."

“I am simply appealing to the population to cooperate. You have been known to cooperate,” Rowley said.

The prime minister also sought to dismiss reports that Trinidad and Tobago was not able to acquire vaccines to deal with the pandemic, insisting that the situation is a worldwide issue and that even some Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries had gone outside the World Health Organization (WHO) approved vaccines to purchase the product.

He insisted that Trinidad and Tobago would continue to be guided by the WHO. He appealed to the population to get vaccinated and help the country achieve herd immunity.

Epidemiologist, Dr. Avery Hinds told reporters that the number of COVID-19 cases were continuing to show “an upward trend” and that health authorities were worried about that situation and its effect on the healthcare system.

Principal Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health, Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards, said that the seven hospitals across the country were now having an average of 380 admissions for the last seven days.

She said that “there is an upward trend in admissions,” adding that even as the authorities had provided 130 new beds over the period Monday to Wednesday this week, bed spaces were scarce.

“It has been touch and go and all our beds are filled,” she said, warning that “at this rate we are out of hospital beds."

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