Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley cautiously hinted yesterday that there is hope, if things go as they are currently with COVID-19 numbers, he may announce a date for reopening the construction sector when he speaks next weekend. He also confirmed a previous announcement of a mid-July reopening of the borders remains on track.
The vaccination of construction workers accounts for the optimism of reopening but there was caution that T&T is not yet out of the woods, as once the borders reopen this country will be susceptible to the Delta variant now in North America.
Many were hoping the PM would have given more hope of a reopening plan. But reopening is linked to vaccination and as of yesterday, Dr Rowley said the next arrival date for vaccines is some time in July, which means there may be a lull in inoculation then until more vaccines arrive.
Dr Rowley acknowledged that vaccinating various sectors was done in the hope back to economic activity soon. He admitted the private sector had been “beaten down by the pandemic” and some businesses were ‘’tottering,” while others were “struggling to keep people on the payroll.”
There is no denying this pandemic has taken a toll on businesses, the economy and had a detrimental impact on the working class.
Even as the Prime Minister was speaking, labour leaders used virtual platforms for Labour Day observances, where they admitted the closure of businesses has negatively impacted many families, with breadwinners now struggling to put food on their tables and children being forced to drop out of school.
Asked about the fate of the 2,000 children identified as having dropped out of school, Dr Rowley said even one child doing so was of concern. He assured, however, assured that somewhere ahead, “we will have to try and find these people and get them back on track for their education.”
We can only hope those who left school will indeed be found and reintegrated into the system. Those children cannot just be written off.
Interestingly, from the trade union platform, JTUM’s Sati Gajadhar-Inniss lamented that there had been “no real conversation” on how the COVID restrictions had affected women and girls, or what will be the new normal for those who dropped out of school because they did not have devices or internet access.
Dr Rowley did say this virus and its effects have brought other difficulties, some of which have not yet been spoken about, while promising to look at the pandemic’s “deleterious effects” going forward.
No one can say what the long term effects of the virus will be nor what corrective actions will be needed, but the fact is that COVID-19 is a conversation that will continue to resonate for years. There is no magic bullet to fix the damage wrought to lives, livelihoods and the economy.
That is why as we move forward, the road of ultra caution may have to be married with getting some semblance of normalcy back. Trinidad and Tobago can ill-afford for lockdowns to continue much longer. Lives, livelihoods and the future of our children are at stake.