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Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh.

KEVON FELMINE

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Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh dashed any hope of an early reopening of businesses yesterday, saying it will only be done when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is satisfied with the information from public health officials dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

At yesterday’s Ministry of Health virtual media conference, Deyalsingh urged citizens to support the Government as it makes decisions in the long-term interest of the country.

On Wednesday, Chamber of Industry CEO Gabriel Faria told Guardian Media that they had earmarked May 4 as a possible start of a phased reopening of businesses. Faria said the chamber had submitted a safe to open protocol to the sub-committee of the “Road Map” Recovery Team for the post-COVID-19 period.

Faria was optimistic that the document would earn favour following a recent report from the University of Oxford which rated T&T at second on a list of countries in a state of readiness to reopen after implementing COVID shutdown measures.

The chamber made this request although Rowley had announced last weekend that the Government was extending its COVID-19 restrictions to May 10 and the border closure to May 15. The PM said this was to allow public health officers to carry out increased surveillance of the population to ascertain the level of virus contamination that was present in T&T.

Referring to the PM’s forecasted dates and the chamber’s plan on Wednesday, Faria had said the business community felt it could start a phased restart process exercise.

“Again, I think this needs to be phased over a period and we are comfortable that the information that we have, we have communicated in working with the Ministry of Health, we are comfortable that we can execute this, in fact we are comfortable that we can do this before the 11th of May. We really were of the opinion that we could have done this starting the 4th of May.”

When asked about the possibility of an early reopening yesterday, however, Deyalsingh said: “The optimism that Mr Gabriel Faria is alluding to, that optimism, I don’t want to say it is misplaced. What I will simply repeat is that the Prime Minister has indicated he will listen to the science. He will listen to the data and the same way we made careful, deliberate steps, which the Oxford report has recognised, in reverse, we will make careful, deliberate steps based on the science.

“The decision to open up, how to open up, when we open up and where will be made by the honourable Prime Minister when he is satisfied that the public health officials, led by the Chief Medical Officer, present him with some data.”

Deyalsingh went on to say that as the country moves into another phase of dealing with the virus, people should not take the statistics and good rating from the University of Oxford as a victory. He said T&T had not conquered or eradicated the virus and that no country had achieved this. He said so far, T&T had only managed to suppressed the virus to an acceptable level.

“And this is where the Prime Minister has said, ‘what risk are we willing to take as we ponder how to get back to some state of reopening of the economy. We will not, hopefully, be making rash decisions based on misplaced optimism, but the decisions are going to be based, as they have always been based, on science and the data,” Deyalsingh said.

“I want to urge all of Trinidad & Tobago that this is a time to rally around your Government, which has your best long-term interest at heart. It is very easy in a situation to make a short-term decision and be popular.

“We are not in a popularity contest. We are in a contest to save lives and so far, so good. Stay the course with the Prime Minister and his Government. I have said on these platforms over and over if we do that, we will come through this together stronger and better.”