A police officer attached to IATF Port-of-Spain asks a man to leave the Brian Lara Promenade in Port-of-Spain yesterday.

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith is now authorised to “encourage” people to obey the COVID-19 regulations and the new restrictions announced yesterday for the next two weeks.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley made the announcement yesterday at a media conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, to update the public on the COVID-19 situation and empowered Griffith and the T&T Police Service (TTPS) to “encourage the population in all the ways you know about” in order to curb congregating.

The Prime Minister was not specific about what he expected the Commissioner to do to enforce the COVID-19 regulations.

“The police have broad responsibilities to point out, to coerce, to restrain, to charge, to close and I expect that they would use all of those authorities towards the effect of having people not congregate, having people not encourage congregation, having people not providing facilities for the congregation and, in short, breaking the law,” Rowley said.

The Prime Minister described the situation as “worrisome,” saying that the rising positive COVID-19 numbers were “much, much too high.”

“What is required now is further closures and enforcement,” he said.

These restrictions now include rolling back public transport from 75 per cent occupancy to 50 per cent and stricter work-from-home rules, as well as a halt to all construction.

“The rest of the country must batten down,” the Prime Minister said.

Rowley said only a “dramatic turn” in the population’s behaviour would help curb the current rising statistics.

The Prime Minister said he had to hold back his own tears yesterday after learning of father and son Premnath and Nigel Ramkalawan, who died within hours of each other from the virus.

“These are not numbers, these are people in families that are bearing that. The fact that nobody has died in your family is not an excuse to play the fool,” the Prime Minister said.

“We have not yet lost control of the virus but if we do not tighten the grip on what we know has to be done, we will lose the grip on managing the level of infection in the country. We are not prepared to let that happen.”

Rowley said he was “amazed” by the number of people who have taken the position that more must be done to protect the country, as long as they are excluded from the restrictions.

“For God’s sake, there is only one way to tell you that this is so,” he said about the rising COVID-19 numbers.

“We have been trying to share all the shareable information that we have.”

He added, “And for those who want to see the bodies, be careful what you wish for. You might not like what you would see, because the person you may have infected and kill, might be right inside your own home.”

He said that instead of obeying the laws, a large number of people sought to be exempted.

“Either officially, to be left out officially, illegally or just crazily,” Rowley said.

While enforcing the idea of heavy-handed policing, Rowley said the police service still could not guard every citizen.

“It is impossible to assign a police officer to every person, so don’t ask for that. Even if it was available, it is not feasible to handcuff and manacle everyone who infringes the law here and there,” he said.

The PM said instead that people just needed to co-operate with the measure needed to bring the virus infection levels under control.

“This is a matter for the individuals,” he said.

“What we are trying to do is stave off calamity. I am appealing to the population again. It is not a life sentence, it’s for two weeks, let us change our lives for two weeks.

“If we don’t get the turnaround we are looking for, I know of no other solution.”

Yesterday, with little notice, PriceSmart was mandated to close according to the updated public health ordinance which barred the opening of discount membership clubs. But that was revised by the State after consultations with the Supermarket Association of T&T.

However, Rowley said that the situation would continue to be monitored and could be shut down if it encouraged gathering and congregations.

“Minimise your families’ presence in the supermarket. If you go, don’t take the whole family please,” he said.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh was also present at the media conference and gave an update on the vaccination acquisition and roll-out.

Deyalsingh said the country could expect 33,600 vaccines from Covax facility next week. He said that with the Covax vaccines, as many as 60,000 people would be vaccinated.

He also said the 100,000 vaccine donation promised by China, now that the Sinopharm vaccine has gotten the World Health Organisation (WHO) approval, was also on the horizon. The State, he said, is also trying to enter a commercial agreement with China to purchase more of the Sinopharm vaccine.