File: Rhian Ramkisson in his costume, Jimmy The Pandemic, takes pictures for his instagram page at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, on what was suposed to be date for Carnival Tuesday last year.

Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell yesterday defended the decision to stage a Carnival 2022 in February for vaccinated people, saying a limited celebration signals a cautious re-opening of the creative and entertainment sectors.

Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, Mitchell said these sectors were hit the hardest with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said they contribute significantly to the economy, so it was extremely welcoming that a limited Carnival celebration can be held safely within the Public Health Regulations and TT Safe Zone requirements.

“I think that it gives persons an opportunity to air and practice their craft. It also gives citizens an opportunity to, again, enjoy our culture, be entertained and participate in a limited type of Carnival celebrations,” Mitchell said.

He also believes the hosting of Carnival will encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.

The ministry said the events would have a limit of 50 per cent capacity with controlled entry and exit points while patrons must sanitise their hands on entry. Events will be concert type shows and competitions encompassing soca, calypso, extempo, chutney, steelpan, Carnival Kings and Queens and Carnival theatre. However, the regulations do not allow fetes, parties and similar type events.

The ministry said the nature of these activities poses a risk of increasing the spread of COVID-19. While it considered PCR testing for risk mitigation, the ministry found it unrealistic as the cost per test per patron would be uneconomical.

But there were mixed views to the celebrations, titled a “Taste of Carnival,” from stakeholders yesterday.

The Promotors Association (TTPA), in a release, said it was clear the celebrations were an important intervention for the State public relations machine. However, it said the activity has no impact on its industry.

“The headline reading ‘Carnival is On’ is misleading, and it has caused tremendous confusion for stakeholders. As a nation, we have missed the opportunity to activate ‘Carnival’ for 2022. The TTPA is not aligned with an agenda that only supports State-funded events, at State-owned venues a few short weeks before the traditional Ash Wednesday end of Carnival date, with no sense of what happens thereafter,” the TTPA said.

Saying Carnival 2022 is not on, the TTPA renewed its call for Government to re-open the event and entertainment sectors and state if Carnival 2023 will be on so they can work on that product instead.

“We need a clear answer. We cannot continue to live in this state: a perpetual winter of discontent. We are clearly asking for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to state if Carnival 2023 is on. We need to start planning now for a successful festival season next year and beyond.”

However, Mitchell said promoters could book the National Academy for Performing Arts, Southern Academy for Performing Arts, Queen’s Hall and Naparima Bowl at affordable rates and any other venues that can be a safe zone. He added that promoters could advertise their events as they deem fit and there is no need to apply to the ministry for approval but they need to follow the regulations.

He said the ministry recognises that the late decision to host Carnival 2022 may have caused some anxiety among the Carnival stakeholders. However, he said it was necessary to receive advice from the Ministry of Health as T&T was still in the throes of a pandemic and has lagging issues of low vaccination rates and a high level of hospital admissions among unvaccinated people.

“Therefore, it was necessary to receive at the very last minute the projections and advice from the Ministry of Health to be able to comfortably and confidently make a decision to host a safe Carnival. It is a taste of Carnival, where some Carnival activities are able to be hosted within the Public Health Regulations within the safe zone guidelines, where persons will be seated, be entertained, in a concert-type setting, and people are again able to enjoy our culture,” Mitchell said.

Speaking to I95.5 FM yesterday, Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore welcomed Carnival 2022, saying the organisation plans to host two concert-type events like the Panorama finals. Ramsey-Moore believes once people follow the public health guidelines the events will be safe. She said the steelpan community looks forward to the events as for the past two years, Pan Trinbago could not generate any revenue to assist steelbands with monthly expenses.

Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Association (TUCO) president Ainsley King also sees Carnival 2022 as an opportunity for calypsonians who have been dormant since the start of the pandemic. He said TUCO intends to capitalise on the opportunity and is confident in the safety measures in place, as they were part of the discussions. TUCO already has its venues to host events and documented members’ vaccination status, he said.

New approach for

’23 should be focus

Head of Tribe Dean Akin thinks the Carnival ship of 2022 has sailed and is prepping for 2023, Caesar’s Army head Jules Sobion thinks Carnival could survive the changing dynamic introduced by the pandemic.

Akin said the time to plan Carnival 2022 is long gone.

“In my opinion, the ship has long sailed for Carnival 2022, since preparations take several months. We have been preparing for Carnival 2023 since last year and we are hoping that the powers that be take a different approach moving forward,” Akin said.

“Instead of having us on red light waiting to give us the green light, we are asking them to give us the green light for Carnival 2023 from now and then change to red if and only if the COVID situation becomes unmanageable.

“The world is learning to live with the virus and economies are fully opening one by one around the globe. Trinidad is about 50 per cent vaccinated and it is time to reopen the event and entertainment industry with all COVID safety protocols in place.”

He added, “The industry has a large eco-system and many persons rely on their jobs in this sector to survive. Two years with no income has been hard for many persons – from security personnel to bartenders, caterers and the list goes on.”

He believes once the protocols are in place and respected, then Carnival 2023 could happen.

“A properly managed safe zone can work well with all the COVID protocols in place. The event and entertainment sectors have been very responsible and patient for the last two years, but it is time to reopen the sector in a responsible and safe manner,” he said.

Sobion is one of the stakeholders working with the National Carnival Commission (NCC) and while paying respect to the work it is doing, Sobion says new blood needs to be injected to deal with the new normal.

“From my personal opinion, what they are trying to do is some form of highlighting and showcasing of the culture through mediums such as concerts and shows and other means of cultural expression,” he said.

“I think it explicitly forbids any form of wine and jam or party or extreme festivity but I still think it’s a viable option. I just believe that how it is set up at this point in time, it does not allow for persons in the industry outside of the State bodies to truly express their ways of showcasing Carnival.”

Sobion said the innovation from the next generation was also missing in the planning process.

“It seems as if everything is controlled by the NCC in terms of what is going to be put forward. I don’t think that with all the consultancy that has taken place with the stakeholders outside of the NCC, I don’t think they’ve allowed us to play an integral part in the cohesive representation of what can transpire,” Sobion said.