Trinidad and Tobago is under a State of Emergency.
This is the last line of defence by the Government as it attempts to stifle the surging COVID-19 numbers and deaths in the hope it will give the overburdened health care system some much-needed breathing room.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the latest restrictions at a media conference on Saturday at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's.
"I'm sorry that it has come to coffins and faces of dead people for us to realise that we are in and always have been in a very difficult place," Rowley told the country.
Rowley said he had consulted with both the Attorney General and the Ministry of Health before making the decision.
"From midnight tonight (Saturday), Trinidad and Tobago will be under a State of Emergency," he said.
The SoE comes with a 9 pm to 5 am curfew.
"If you don't have to be out for exempted reasons, stay home under the force of law," Rowley said.
"We will do what we have to do to further minimise the opportunities for infection and we are expecting that with a population that is now even more responsive, that this is the time to take it serious and take it personal."
The Prime Minister said contrary to what people believe, it was not feasible to simply shut down the country.
"Even to be home, you need people to be out," he said.
Rowley did not give a time-frame for the lifting of the SoE, but indicated that the length will be determined by the response from the citizenry.
"None of us in this country have ever been in a State of Emergency during a pandemic. Take that, use that as your guide," he said in response to questions on when the SoE would end.
"This is not a comparison to another State of Emergency, this situation calls for this and the length of it will be determined by the response. I am saying the more cooperative the response, the shorter will be the period.”
The last time the country had a State of Emergency called was in August 2011 under the then People's Partnership government. However, that SoE was called to address a spiralling crime situation.
Just weeks ago, Rowley said that an SoE and the inherent loss of constitutional rights was unnecessary. On Saturday, however, he defended the change in that stance.
"All of that has been solved by me using the State of Emergency, which is properly ensconced in the laws of T&T," he said.
"I didn't want to use the provision that is existing now in the Public Health Ordinance because not very many people give the respect to the ordinance that they give to the State of Emergency.”
The Prime Minister said that with lives at stake, he had to do all that was necessary to save those lives.
Rowley said the numbers of those lost to COVID-19 now had faces and were being seen.
"So we no longer dealing with numbers, we are dealing with 21 deaths in one day and if you bring that down to an hour, it's almost one person dying every hour. That is a frightening situation," he said.
"If that is allowed to multiply, very soon, we would be happy when it is only 21 because it can go to a place where 21 is a great improvement.
"Because the more we are allowing ourselves to be infected, that population of infected people would generate a larger population of sick people and would generate a larger population of dead people.”
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith briefing Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds on the TTPS's operational plans for the State of Emergency which came into effect at midnight on Saturday. The meeting was held at the National Operations Fusion Centre in Port-of-Spain, on Saturday.
'We don't need the police, we don't need the army, you know what needs to be done'
The Prime Minister praised the citizenry for their handling of the restrictions and lockdowns last year but said that things were not the same this year.
"One year later, it's a different story. We now have vaccines to be had, we know people who got sick and got over and of course, it's only five people dead, one dead, some days nobody dead so we do what we want,” he said.
"As we are running out of space, as more people are becoming sick and a fraction of those people are requiring beds and beds are becoming unavailable, we have to be even more cooperative than we were last year. Unfortunately, that is not what we have been having.”
Rowley said he was not blaming anyone but simply pointing out the facts.
"We have a population that is scared," he said.
"I woke up to advice that we should press the panic button. The question arises, is the state still in a position to say that we will provide health care to those who want it? What cannot be said is that we did not put arrangements in place for a reasonable response.”
The PM said that the numbers given by the Ministry of Health were just part of the real story, as the numbers could be worse.
"These are confirmed cases that have come to the attention of the health authorities," Rowley said as he warned against people congregating and rushing to the supermarkets after his announcement.
“It might be this evening, that when you rushing to pay for the gas that you rush for that you pick up COVID-19 and carry home to your grandmother or your child. There is no need," he said.
"You may get COVID in a supermarket where you end up in a crowd trying to get the last tin of salmon or whatever you went for and how sensible would that have been?"
The Prime Minister said he will always chose "life over livelihoods."
During her presentation, meanwhile, Thoracic Medical Director at the Caura Hospital Dr Michelle Trotman thanked the Prime Minister for calling the SoE saying it would help to freeze movement of citizens.
"And I beg the population to indeed freeze. We don't need the police, we don't need the army, you know what needs to be done," Trotman said.
"We in the health field is saying our backs are breaking.”
Trotman said there were more than 4,000 people at home with the virus and while some were asymptomatic, others were ill.
"We have to respond to these people also," she said.
She said that the step-down facilities gave health officials a chance to "catch their breath" and gave them room to deal with acute care patients.
The Prime Minister said that as a longtime follower of calypso, two calypsonians had come to his aid. He said Brother Mudada, who said “De ting doh care” in his song, was the first.
"So understand that nobody is exempted from this," Rowley said.
"And Devon Seales has come to my aid to appeal to you when he says in his calypso ‘Don’t jackass de ting,’” Rowley added.
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