A customer receives lunch at Shiann’s Food Place on Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain, during a Customer Appreciation Day activity yesterday.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday announced longer, tighter COVID-19 “lockdown” measures to keep the public from possible exposure.

Starting this morning, the “Stay-at-Home” mandate has been extended to April 30, including for schools, curtailed operating hours for non-essential businesses and there’s now complete closure of food places.

This as Government’s COVID-19 battle moved to the level of seeking to curtail community spread.

In announcing the extension and changes at yesterday’s daily COVID-19 media briefing, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley explained, “We’re removing people from having to come out to get things and taking steps to put more people indoors until April 30. This is how we’re aiming not to walk the road others have walked as they missed this milestone.”

The first “Stay Home” mandate was up to April 15. But Rowley yesterday said when he last spoke on COVID measures he’d hinted Government would have evaluated the position going forward and make necessary adjustments as required.

He added, “…Clearly, we’re not going to be in a position on April 15 to be able to tell the public you can come out and return to some resemblance of normalcy. It’s the other way around. We expect by April 15, it’s quite likely, certainly possible, we may be in a worse situation than we were on the first of the 15 days of staying home.”

Top of his announcement—effective from yesterday—he recommended people wear masks covering their mouths and nostrils, where the virus can enter. Government will be distributing masks to the public soon. The Opposition on Sunday said it’s having masks made for those who don’t have.

Other changes in Government’s shorter, tighter arrangement up to April 30 include:

• All restaurants/food services closed completely.

• The prohibition includes vending, vendors who move around and street food vendors.

• Retail discount stores, markets, supermarkets, fruit stalls, shops, vegetable stalls, bakeries, parlours, providing food or medicine/necessities will close by 6 pm daily.

• Wholesale stores providing food, drugs, necessities will close by 4 pm daily.

• Hardware/plumbing/electrical businesses open from 8 am to noon, Mondays to Saturdays.

• Pharmacies will close by 8 pm.

• The projected April 20 date for school reopening now postponed to April 30. The Education Ministry was determining yesterday when school may reopen and a SEA exam date. A recently projected May exam date isn’t feasible.

• Religious services/gatherings where 10 people were allowed now cut to five.

• Closure of alcohol retail continues, save in groceries, supermarkets.

Of the new arrangement, Rowley said, “People will have time at home to prepare your own food, but more importantly, it’ll remove a significant number of people from having to come out to get food.”

Chief Medical Officer Roshan Parasram said street food is deemed a problem to county health. Rowley added that authorities are now concerned about community spread and was seeking certain closures to reduce exposure and the potential for infection. He said conversations about who could sell food had also become a “matter of ethical exploitation by some who have no intention to help us.”

He said, “Where we at in Trinidad and Tobago, it’s reasonable to assume the people around you could be carrying this virus. It’s because of this potential we’re trying to minimise exposure so what you’re fearful of doesn’t happen.”

On the changes, he added, “It’s not a question of preserving your comfort zone, or earning capacity, or equalising co-ethnic behaviour, or accepting, or exploiting political opportunity to create mayhem—it’s simply a question of whether we live or we die.”

Rowley cited analyses of the latest deliberations and advice from technical experts. This indicates T&T is at the point where control can be lost. Authorities didn’t know how many people (or who) hadn’t travelled were in the COVID category but they knew they’re “out there.” He said databases indicated there has to be concern on that new development.

Rowley said additional action will be taken to intensify compliance on the Stay Home extension and changes.