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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has announced adjustments to the COVID-19 restrictions, including a full return of public servants to work from Monday, and the reopening of gyms, places of worship, cinemas and members’ clubs with some caveats.

However, the announcement brought continued disappointment for restaurants owners and bar operators who have been told that they will have to wait at least another two weeks before any consideration can be given to them reopening in full. No immediate concessions were made for in-house dining at bars and restaurants. For now, restaurants and bars will continue to operate takeaway services only. Dr Rowley said this category carries the greatest amount of difficulty due to the nature of the behaviour of people going to bars and restaurants.

According to the PM, in justifying his decision, “Alcohol has a way of making sensible people act in a less than sensible way.”

Meanwhile, public groups of no more than ten people remain in place.

The prime minister made the announcement at a news conference on Saturday at the Scarborough Library Facility, Tobago.

Rowley, who cautioned against “complacency and tiredness” with observing the safety regulations, urged the nation not to mistake this easing as total removal of the regulations as it could again result in a super spreading of the virus.

The PM said the main threat associated with the COVID-19 virus was the gathering of people. Limiting personal interactions is the most effective method of reducing and eliminating infection rates, he said.

The PM said he recently lost a close friend and neighbour to COVID-19 and that brought the message home to him personally. “It’s more than just a number, it’s more than just a name when you are directly affected,” he said.

Rowley said while the nation’s borders will remain closed for a bit longer, the authorities had increased efforts to repatriate nationals who remained stranded abroad.

Meanwhile, he spoke of the improved measures to “tag” people who are returning as he said they now possessed the necessary technology to remotely monitor those who would be placed in quarantine and to ensure they adhered to the public health regulations and directives to remain isolated.

A committee comprising the Minister of Health, Minister of National Security and the Attorney General will look at implementing monitoring software that can remotely monitor people who come into the country.

“The technology now is allowed to have persons monitored at home and their vitals monitored by the health department to see whether, in fact, they are symptomatic of the virus,” the PM said.

Commending the health authorities for implementing safety measures from the onset as he said this had placed T&T in a more stable position when compared to other territories, the PM added that while the country’s infection rate had plateaued, he was particularly concerned about the infection rate from repatriated people which was estimated to be around 11 per cent.

When the issue of children being at home and requiring parental supervision was raised, Rowley said the Government could not undertake that cost and he advised people to speak with their respective supervisors.

PM’s announcements

*All churches will be open for services no more than an hour at 50 per cent capacity. Members will have to also observe social distancing protocols.

*The public service will be out in full capacity. Permanent Secretaries, managers and supervisors will have to ensure that “workplace distancing” is observed in addition to proper sanitisation and no congregating in groups.

*Gyms can resume operations, however, at 50 per cent capacity from 6 am-10 pm daily.

*Casinos, cinemas, theatres and Members Clubs can resume operations at 50 per cent capacity no food and drinks allowed from 8 am to 10 pm.

*Beaches along the country’s coastlines are now open but this does not include rivers or ponds.

*Hotels and guesthouses can also now open pools to their guests.

*Daycares and schools remain closed for the time. Tertiary and training institutes that provide training for practical programmes, such as labs and flight training schools that cannot be done online, can also resume once an exemption is granted by the Ministry of Health to do so.