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Customers wait in line outside the Royal Castle Mobile outlet on Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook, last night, before the closure of roadside food vending for the next three weeks.

No street food vending, limited opening hours for essential services and a shutdown of all retail services have been instituted once again as the Government hopes to curb the climbing numbers of COVID-19 positive patients.

The new restrictions, announced by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday, came into effect at midnight last night in the hopes that limited movement and congregating would trigger a dip in the numbers after health officials announced that the parallel healthcare system was ten days away from collapse.

Groceries, pharmacies and other essential services will function on limited hours between 6 am to 8 pm.

Last Thursday, Rowley announced that all restaurants would be closed for three weeks until May 23.

At that time he did not touch street vending but yesterday explained that any business that attracts people would have to be suspended and revised on May 23.

On Saturday Rowley had said that there was no need to touch street food vendors. At that time he said that people would always find someone else to blame for the COVID-19 spike.

Guardian Media had reached out to the Prime Minister to find out whether the number of people congregating at street vending sites would trigger another suspension of that service.

“They don’t have to be,” he said in a text response.

He said that people would continue to operate how they wanted despite the warnings.

However, yesterday it was part of the restrictions that will take place with immediate effect.

“’As of midnight tonight (Monday), all food service will be discontinued and that includes street food selling—all. I am sure there would be inconvenience here but the corollary to that is that I am sure most people if not all, in this pandemic, in this crisis that is brewing, that you can feed yourself at home,” he said.

Rowley admitted that he did not anticipate that when he shut down restaurants that consumers would flock in large numbers for street vendors.

“I also refuse to believe that in a pandemic, where death is our portion, to accept that we cannot do what has to be done to get by until May 23,” he said.

“These restrictions are required to satisfy the need to respond to the virus which does not come out if you do not have to and do not congregate if you do come out,” he said.

“Stay home only for a while. It is not for the rest of your life. If we do it right then we would be able to go back to a situation of greater mixing,” he said.

“If it is not absolutely essential then please don’t come out because then you become part of the problem,” he said.

“If you are engaged in a business that attracts people out or attract them to congregate then that is also part of the problem,” he said.

Rowley said that while the medicine was bitter if the country did not take it, “the wages of this is death for some people”.

He added that the new restrictions would be enforced “vigorously”.

“Those two actions are facilitators of the infection rate increase. So it matters not what you are engaged in but if you are engaged in an activity that facilitates the movement of people or the gathering of people. The Government has to see that as an area of restriction,” he said.

“It is against that background that we made the interventions last Thursday, to reduce the number of people that are coming out there, all for good reasons at the personal level, everybody could tell you what the good reason that they are out,” he said.

“But the requirement is that we want you not to come out if you don’t have to,” he said.

He said that the restrictions would help bring us back to some semblance of normalcy.

“These measures give us the best chance and if this does not work, I ask you, what is the next step?” he asked.

“One option that is not available is to do nothing,” he said.

Rowley also said yesterday that the Minister of Finance was working on figures which included the senior citizens’ grant which supports 107,000 people at a cost of $4 billion.

Social assistance for 19,000 people carried a $490 million bill.

The government is also looking to continue the food card system for 30,000 people which carried a $185 million price tag.

The Minister of Finance is also making a $10 million contribution to ecclesiastical institutions to assist those in need within their communities. —Renuka Singh