National Security Minister Stuart Young is appealing to the population not to take action that would expose members of the public to unnecessary risks involving the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
And as part of this, he has advised people to cancel planned vacations abroad and remain at home to ensure their safety and that of their families.
During last Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, officials had advised people to limit their movements to only emergency and essential travel.
Reinforcing this call during a media briefing at the Ministry of Health Saturday, Young said, "We recognise at this point that there are a lot of nationals trying to make their way back home but persons need to understand the exposure and risk factor associated right now with travel.”
He urged, "Please do not travel unless it is absolutely necessary, unless it is an emergency."
Young said the virus continued to be circulated prevalently at international airports, in cruise ships and resorts around the world.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh added, "For persons going to Tobago for vacation, think twice.
“If you are going to Tobago for business, where your physical presence is absolutely necessary and you can’t do it over the phone, well then you have to go. But most of the travel from Trinidad to Tobago are Trinidadians going for leisure and that has to be reconsidered now."
He even called on sporting officials to revisit their programmes and implement decisions in keeping with the safety of the population.
And for those operating party boats, Deyalsingh also cautioned against this as he said, "Because on a party boat, you are packed together and you don’t know who is next to you."
He urged people to stay home and visit the Pitch Lake and Knolly’s Tunnel as he said, "We need to revisit our lifestyle for the foreseeable future until scientists understand what is COVID-19, until we have a proper treatment and until we have a vaccine because what is going to cripple us if we don’t pay attention to it…is the sheer volume and numbers.
"We don’t want 500,000 people in T&T coming down with COVID-19, as mild as it is, because as mild as it is, it will put a drain on the public and private sector hospital systems.
"Put off, reschedule, cancel any vacation plans. Your health is much more important."
Noting he had been forced to make two judgment calls within a 24-hour period Saturday, Young said, "It included preventing persons from getting on planes abroad to come to T&T. In one instance, I also gave authorisation for the blocking of a particular plane to come to T&T.
"I will take these decisions to protect T&T but the message is personal responsibility."
At the level of his ministry, Young said they were prepared to do what had to be done, "including to arrest persons if necessary for the maintenance of public order."
He urged, "Please people, when the authorities in T&T ask you to do certain things, please listen, it is only for your own good."
He echoed Deyalsingh’s comment on vacation, saying it is not essential or emergency travel and it would be wiser to cancel at this stage.
In this regard, he said he had to deal with an incident at the Piarco International Airport earlier in the day.
"During the course of the day, we were contacted by persons who were not listening to the authorities and they wanted to get on a flight. The airline had taken a decision not to allow them to board the flight and they basically did not want to listen to the airline and the authorities to move on."
The passengers were eventually not allowed to board the flight by the authorities.
He said people with a high-risk profile were those the authorities do not want out in the public at this time.
Regarding the cancellation of mass gatherings, sporting events and other events of a similar nature, Deyalsingh congratulated Roman Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon for taking the bold decision to suspend Masses from Saturday, as these qualified as mass gatherings were many elderly people, who are among those most vulnerable, usually are in attendance.
He said, "This is where society is following the Government and taking the lead."
On the issue of social distancing, Young said behavioural changes were needed immediately.
Deyalsingh said he had been discouraged from using the domestic air-bridge as a precaution and instead, he now intends to use technology to host crucial meetings with senior officials in Tobago to bring them up to speed with the national action plan.
Asked if Government had held any discussions regarding implementing policies that could assist businesses who would now take a financial hit, Young said sub-Cabinet discussions were taking place as it related to human resource issues. He said the Ministry of Finance was looking at the situation but it was a fluid one which was still unfolding.