Tobago Health officials are concerned that there may be an increase in COVID-19 cases on the island following Monday’s Tobago House of Assembly Elections.
The concern comes after People’s National Movement supporters openly flouted COVID-19 regulations during a campaign meeting at the Cyd Gray Sporting Complex in Roxborough on Wednesday night.
Party supporters openly inter-mingled with each other as they danced and wined to soca star Farmer Nappy’s call as he threw them into a frenzy during a performance of his 2021 hit Backyard Jam. While some supporters wore masks, others didn’t and there was no social distancing as the meeting took on a Carnival-like atmosphere.
Ironically, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who had addressed party supporters moments before the performance, had asked the council members for a gift in celebration of the party’s 60th anniversary and they, in turn, responded by soliciting Farmer Nappy’s performance and their response to it.
Addressing the issue yesterday, County Medical Officer of Health (Tobago) Dr Tiffany Hoyte expressed concern over the lack of adherence to the COVID-19 regulations.
“Anytime you have any mass gathering that is the concern, whether you have elections, whether it be church, whether it be whatever, any kind of mass gatherings and you know it’s happening frequently, we are on the lookout. We have heightened our surveillance, we are waiting to see what happens with the numbers.”
Hoyte assured, however, that the island’s healthcare system is prepared for the eventuality of an increase on cases following the election, as was seen in Trinidad following the General Election.
After the General Election on August 10 last year, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that due to the rampant spread of COVID-19 in T&T, a number of restrictions had to be re-implemented from August 17. A number of those restrictions are still in place, including the closure of schools and daycares, no in-house consumption of alcohol at bars and restaurants and no more than 10 persons being allowed at public events.
Rowley himself, who only recently had a heart procedure done, had to go into self-quarantine last August, after it was revealed that someone he came into contact with during the celebration of the PNM’s General Election victory had tested positive for the virus.
Among the PNM officials at Wednesday’s meeting was Minister of Sport Shamfa Cudjoe. Several people expressed outrage at this on social media yesterday, as Cudjoe, who was out of the country from December 16 last year to January 11, should still be in quarantine until January 25 in observance of the mandatory 14-day quarantine for citizens returning from abroad.
Cudjoe also spoke on the platform at last night’s PNM meeting in Mt Pleasant.
Guardian Media attempted to contact Secretary of Health Wellness and Family Development Tracy Davidson-Celestine, who is also the leader of the PNM’s Tobago Council, on the issue yesterday but she did not return calls or messages. However, her communications team said upon arrival to PNM meetings, attendees must hand sanitise and are given a mask if they do not have one.
“Attendees are also given small bottles of sanitiser at the meetings and persons are individually advised of all COVID guidelines and the law and rules of seating,” one of Davidson-Celestine’s communications team members said.
The communications team also said venues with ample seating and field space are also used so that people can comfortably social distance. However, they admitted that there may be several members of a family from one household who attend the events together and marshals also consistently keep an eye on any potential crowding and correct it immediately.
Both the PNM and the People’s Progressive Patriotic have been guilty of flouting the COVID rules on the campaign trail.
Also contacted yesterday, PDP deputy leader Farley Augustine admitted issues with full compliance under the COVID regulations.
“It is really difficult to hold an election during COVID-19 and in a space where the citizenry isn’t by vast or significant majority able to access messaging virtually. Some things have to give. We have been doing the drive-in meetings and we have been reminding people to keep on their masks. There is compliance for the most part but you know human beings. Thankfully, the election season is coming to an end soon.”
Also contacted on the matter, Sr Supt Anand Ramesar, who heads the TTPS Tobago Division, said his officers had been instructed to maintain law and order by being visible at political meetings to ensure all COVID-19 protocols are observed. He promised to look into the matter.
However, other senior police officials, who did not want to be named, said they were puzzled over why the activity was allowed to go on, since they had specific instructions to deal with COVID breaches after concerns were raised about such activity during political meetings last week.