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The Ministry of Health has defended Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s directive for restaurants to abstain from serving alcoholic beverages although they have been allowed to resume in-house service. Speaking during yesterday’s virtual press conference, Principal Medical Officer Institutions Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards said the decision was based on scientific evidence.

“The decision for restricting alcohol at restaurants…this is a policy decision that was taken by a group of persons based on the science and evidence on the impact of alcohol,” she said.“We believe that alcohol from a behavioural pattern causes a dis-inhibition (sic) of behaviour and thus results in persons reducing…their anti-COVID measures in terms of face mask-wearing and proximity, thus increasing their risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

On Saturday, Rowley announced that restaurants would be allowed to resume in-house service at 50 per cent capacity but were debarred from serving alcohol and must obeying the relevant safety protocols. This has been met with mixed reactions from restauranteers. Bars, however, are still not being allowed to resume in-house service.

Meanwhile, it was also announced that two more facilities will be added to the parallel healthcare system by Friday.The new facilities will increase the system’s interoperable bed capacity from 1,551 across 21 facilities to 1,651 across 23.

One facility will be at the Kapok hotel for repatriated nationals and has a bed capacity of 90 while the other will be a correctional facility in Tobago with a bed capacity of 10. “As you would imagine, prisoners cannot really be kept in self-isolation at the current maximum-security prisons such as the Remand Yard,” Abdool-Richards said.

“Such a case could result in a very rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus within the prisons which is a risk to the prisoners themselves as well as the staff attached to the maximum-security prisons.”

There are currently 19 prisoners at the Claxton Bay Correction Facility after 18 prisoners of the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca tested positive for COVID-19 last week. The Claxton Bay facility can hold 26 patients.

The decision to increase the number of facilities, Abdool-Richards said, was partly due to the Government’s intention to increase the number of repatriations within the near future. She said two flights will be bringing nationals home from Miami on Thursday and from Barbados on Friday.

The establishment of the new facilities comes one month after two of the earlier facilities—the Camp Balandra and Brooklyn, Sangre Grande step-down facilities—were decommissioned.