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Lawrence Robert Augustus

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

There were a few mixed reactions to the announcements made by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley of a relaxation of the Public Health Regulations.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, the Prime Minister said from Monday, the public service will return to work in its full strength, public transport will revert to 100 per cent capacity, sporting and team events will be allowed, safe zones will move from 50 to 75 per cent capacity, the restrictions on capacity at places of worships and graveside funerals will be removed and all students will return to schools from the start of term three.

The mask mandate will remain in effect in all public places but families will now be allowed to travel in their personal vehicles without wearing masks.

In Port-of-Spain yesterday, taxi drivers were happy with the announcements.

“We are elated. For the past two years we have been working at 50 per cent first and then 75 per cent capacity, so I am grateful that we are able to resume our 100 per cent full salary when the day comes, so I applaud the move,” taxi driver Andre Morrison said.

Morrison plies the Port-of-Spain/San Fernando route. He admitted the move back to 100 per cent capacity may come with some discomfort for the travelling public.

“Some people get accustomed to the spacing out, so we may have a little difficulty in the beginning but eventually everybody will fall back in line,” Morrison said.

Junior Barclay, who plies the Port-of-Spain to Chaguanas route, said he too was glad for an opportunity to earn his full salary once more.

“Even though the price was increased, the flow of passengers dropped and now that we get back 100 per cent, meaning that we could earn at least $40 additional than what we have right now, so we are grateful for that, all of the drivers are saying they are very happy,” Barclay said.

Some members of the public were concerned, though, that the number of COVID-19 cases would increase.

“It’s a good thing, everybody wants things to go back to normal but it still have the COVID going. There are some pros and cons with that, I’m still sceptical with that, especially with the 100 per cent in vehicles, because you are supposed to be social distancing, so it come like you are contradicting things there,” Diego Martin resident Desmarie Nicholas said.

As she stood waiting for a taxi to get home, Nicholas said she would be uncomfortable sitting closer to other members of the public when travelling.

D’Abadie resident Jahiem Mayers said although he felt some relief at the ease of restrictions, he was also concerned.

“I’m fine with that, but the cases will go up too, so it’s a kind of 50/50,” Mayers said.

He said he will still be taking all the precautions he can to ensure he does not catch COVID-19.

But San Fernando resident Lawrence Augustus said he believes the time has come for the population to learn to live with COVID-19.

“Eventually, you had to open up, because it have people going one side by themselves and having their party because they have to free up a bit, because this work and no play, you must play a little bit, so people need to relax a little bit,” Augustus said.

He said a lot of citizens are feeling the mental burden of being under so many restrictions for almost three years.

“That stress is a killer by itself and you see that cluster and you inside and you lock down inside, people want to come out a little bit but you must take care of your health, everybody responsible for their health, whether the Government says yes or no, you are responsible for your own health.”

He was also looking forward to students returning to schools.

“On my side, I see children studying their work under a downs tree. Everybody does talk about online but this online thing, not everybody could go online, you have to go to the cybercafe and pay if you don’t have internet and then without that, it come like you are out of the system,” Augustus said.

But while some people were happy with the changes, public health expert Dr Mandreker Bahall said he believes the Prime Minister could have eased more restrictions.

Bahall said the Government has been overly-cautious since the start of the pandemic and the time had come for them to act decisively to return T&T to pre-pandemic normalcy.

“We need to be a little more aggressive so we can make decisions and if we falter, we can change back to where we can be a little more stringent, but right now we have all the data to show that we could be a little more flexible with the public health regulations, we are taking too long to get out of the public health regulations, we need to live our lives with our mandate,” Bahall said.