In the 227 days since this country recorded its first COVID-19 case, the biggest challenge has been finding the best ways to minimise the toll on public health and the economy while returning to some semblance of normalcy.
It is clear, however, that pandemic fatigue is starting to set in to the extent that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s media briefing on Saturday was one of the most widely anticipated events of the day. The anxiety in some quarters was almost palpable.
There was a cautious easing of some restrictions but no relief yet for the food and beverages sector where some business operators claim they are on the brink of permanent closure. They remain subject to the very delicate balancing act the Government has been attempting under the guidance of public health experts.
It is disappointing that the Government has not yet outlined a plan for the reopening of bars and restaurants. An entire sector is dying and there is still no clear way forward.
Considering all the losses they have already absorbed and their continued efforts to continue operating and maintain some level of employment, these businesses should be given much more support.
Expressing disappointment on behalf of bar and restaurant owners, the T&T Chamber, in an immediate response to the measures announced by Dr Rowley, warned of a risk that “entire industries, businesses, and segments of our workforce get left behind” with a ripple effect throughout the population.
Therein lies the challenge. COVID-19 remains a clear and present danger with 5,503 positive cases recorded since the coronavirus entered the country on March 12. That and the grim milestone reached last week of more than 100 deaths from the virus highlight the need to continue functioning with the new normal of physical distancing, frequent sanitizing and the wearing of masks.
On the other hand, there has been a debilitating toll on large segments of the population from the prolonged period of restriction. Businesses have failed, unemployment has increased, and many citizens are facing mounting debts.
The clamour from nationals still stranded outside of T&T’s closed borders have only added to a very stressful situation
The severe limitations on social and economic activity have also impacted on the mental health of many and that alone, if left unchecked, will strain health and social services to a degree this country cannot afford.
There will have to be a careful weighing of these and other factors over the next few days because the current arrangements under which citizens have been existing cannot continue indefinitely.
The challenge for Dr Rowley and his administration is to win the confidence and support of citizens who must continue to behave responsibly well after the remaining restrictions are lifted and T&T’s borders reopen.
Missteps and a growing sense of complacency sent the country almost back to square one well into the first attempt to cautiously resume normal activities which had been taking place on a phased basis from early May through June.
By July, new cases of COVID-19 were being detected and community spread emerged for the first time in mid-August.
That is why a strong message must be sent that T&T is not back to normal and will not be for months, perhaps years to come. The nation has no choice but to learn to function in a way that is healthy for society and the economy.
More than ever, one of our watchwords, discipline, must be in full effect.