A police officer stops drivers on Independence Square, Port-of-Spain after the start of the curfew on Sunday night.

Hours after Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith held a news conference, where he said he was amazed to see that 250,000 names were given by 2,800 organisations to have curfew passes issued, that figured skyrocketed to 350,000 applicants with close to 7,000 letters coming from companies requesting exemptions.

However, Commissioner Griffith said late yesterday evening only 8000 curfew passes were granted from that mammoth figure as the purpose of this current State of Emergency is to limit the movement of people.

During the news conference, Griffith said he received letters from roti shops, chartered accountants, sailors aboard ships, gas stations, marine surveyors and event and tent rental companies, PH drivers, contractors, unions, “divers who clean under boats asked for curfew pass and it goes on and on”, he said.

The CoP said he felt many people such as CEOs, chairmen and directors of companies only wanted passes as some form of status symbol.

He singled out MTS (National Maintenance and Training Security Company) which asked for 4,037 passes, but added “this was not going to happen.”

“Giving out these passes would defeat the purpose of the State of Emergency, which is to limit the movement of citizens, so that the surge in COVID cases and deaths, could be countered. This SoE is different to past SoEs,” Griffith said.

“It is not business as usual. In letters, every man and dog asked for a permit and it was given (in 2011) and persons able to travel left right and centre as focus was for criminal elements. I have spent 26 hours nonstop reviewing all 2,800 letters for curfew passes. Over 250,000 names came to me for passes of names to be given which is quarter of the population and the names are still coming in. Our job is to minimise freedom of movement especially during the curfew period,” Griffith said.

He said while some companies and businesses have already agreed to adjust the working hours of employees so that they would not require a permit and be out at 9 pm, others have not been so flexible and understanding.

“NAMDEVCO sent a memo to all markets that they would remain open till 3.30 am as they are essential services. You are saying because we are an essential service intend to operate as normal? People have completely misunderstood the operations here. That is not true. I’ve received hundreds of applications from vendors saying markets open from 3.30 am but that is not the case. As the CoP, unless you have curfew passes, we can stop you, apprehend you, take you in for questioning and persons may be arrested. So, persons who believe it is business as usual cause they deem themselves as essential service, it ain’t gonna happen,” he added.

Griffith said it was time for a behavioural shift in the country.

“Passes will only be given to persons who have a reason to be on the street between 9 pm and 5 am. I’m asking for behavioural change and for us to understand what is required.”

The Commissioner, however, noted that in emergency cases where people may have to go to the hospital or relative’s house that if stopped by the police they will be allowed to state their case and would be escorted by the police to their destination.

Griffith said that people should not panic if there is an encounter with the police during curfew hours, but assured that those who intended to challenge the system, “would be dealt with.”