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A police officer attached to IATF unit pleads with members of the public to stop gathering on the Brian Lara Promenade, Port-of- Spain, yesterday.

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Police Commissioner Gary Griffith yesterday called on people to cancel the COVID parties they have been planning.

Griffith said they had information that several “COVID parties” were being planned for this Easter weekend across the country, but warned they should be shelved since police will be cracking down on this. Police are also grappling with robberies which have been occurring amid the COVID lockdown, he confirmed at yesterday’s daily COVID-19 media briefing.

Griffith said the police knew certain private “COVID” parties were being planned for the holiday weekend despite the authorities’ calls for isolation, social distancing and staying home. He said there’d received information that people have invited friends and neighbours to come to their homes for the parties.

“This is a ticking time bomb,” Griffith said.

“In New York, some people died after inviting people over. We ask people to be responsible. We haven’t intervened in any parties but we know they’re being planned, especially for this weekend.”

To ensure such activities do not take place, Griffith said police will be monitoring where cars are parked outside homes. He said police will take action to prevent such gatherings and called on members of the public to say something if they see something.

The Ministry of Health’s evening COVID-19 bulletin showed that some 1,004 samples had been conducted by CARPHA and 109 of them had been positive cases while there were eight deaths: two women and six men.

Griffith said police’s anti-COVID measures over this holiday weekend also include establishing “heavy roadblocks” in front police stations and stop-and-search exercises. He said people will have to justify being out after 6 pm and particularly 8 pm.

He said three Central Trinidad people had so far been arrested for having bars open but there’s generally compliance to the Stay-at-Home regulations by the vast majority of people.

“Police have interacted with people for breaching orders and the persons said they didn’t understand the regulations and later dispersed or closed up,” he said.

“We try to use persuasion as much as possible since the more people arrested—and having them in prison or interacting with police—the more it can open up avenues for virus spread. It’s not that we don’t intend to arrest but it looks like people are heeding responsibilities.”

On bakeries in remote areas remaining open and liquor marts continuing to advertise, Griffith said, “While TTPS has thousands of officers, it’s impossible to lock down every single street.

“When people open and they see police around they close, trying to beat the system … making it very difficult for us.”

Places with liquor licences must close, he said. He hinted, however, that “something may change in the near future” but didn’t expand. He’s also advising supermarkets that the policy on limiting numbers doesn’t mean allowing only five people into a store at a time. He recommended judging on a minimum distance of 75-feet per person in the store.

Griffith also said people have challenged police when they were advised to wear masks. He said police aren’t trying to profile people when they have masks and sometimes banks ask customers to temporarily remove masks for video footage. Saying it was difficult to say if the person in a mask is a criminal or not, he said the situation was very flexible.

However, Griffith admitted the situation has presented almost a “virtual war zone out there” and he’s appealed for people to tell police if they “see something”, including breach of COVID orders in crime hotspots.

“Help us help you,” he said.

Griffith said a different type of crime would be occurring as people stayed home. He confirmed robberies have been taking place, especially on Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain. While he said it wasn’t looting, he said people had been breaking into closed stores and heading to George Street with wheelbarrows of items Police had since increased capacity and spoke with downtown businesspeople about the issue.

On another aspect, he said T&T was a very large country and trying to “lock it down” in a situation like this “is very difficult.”

Griffith said police’s biggest concern was social media and advised caution on fake news, which can cause undue panic. He said recently there’d been messages circulating about Charlotte Street and the word “looting” arose but looting hadn’t occurred.