Prime Minister Keith Rowley declared a COVID-19 state of emergency in Trinidad at the weekend as the death toll mounted and as medical professionals warned that the twin island nation with Tobago was running out of hospital beds for the afflicted.
And unlike other nations in the 15-member Caribbean Community where governments had faced resistance in locking down countries to stem the tide of infections and deaths, the PM this time acted in large part on a call from the main umbrella business body to do so.
Saying the time had come for strong and decisive action, the Chamber of Commerce called for and received a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekday curfew and a 12-hour one from 5 p.m. on weekends. The chamber said it had polled its members and they all had agreed that more stringent action to curtail casual contact and overcrowding in the streets and other places had to be implemented.
The move by Rowley came as authorities recorded a staggering 21 deaths in a single day last week—the highest among any nation in the bloc in a 24-hour period—and nine as this week began, also among the highest. The medical community had warned about a system on the brink of being overwhelmed by an average of 300 positive cases daily.
To help the island cope with its most recent surge, the U.S. government last week donated two field hospitals to authorities who immediately set them up to cope with an increasing number of hospitalizations.
Until recently, the cabinet and the medical community had battled valiantly to maintain a lid on the pandemic. Borders have been closed since the global outbreak early last year. Local police had done their best to try to enforce social distancing and other rules, including the shutting down of parties and the clearing of beaches and other social spots but authorities still noticed a stark increase in cases. PM Rowley said the time had come to act.
“If you don’t have to be on the street for an exempt reason, you stay at home under the constraints of the law,” a frustrated Rowley said. “I’m sorry it has come to coffins and the faces of dead people, to realize that we’ve always been in a very difficult place.”
As Trinidad battles on, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis in The Bahamas has won an extension of emergency powers in the wake of a spike in the larger family islands and as Bahamians turn out in low numbers for vaccination.
“Despite the fact that a national vaccination distribution program is in progress, there remains a comparatively low percentage of fully vaccinated persons in The Bahamas. And whereas there is a third wave of infections on the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama. According to scientific and medical advice, “COVID-19 is likely to persist as a pandemic in The Bahamas, for the foreseeable future,” a weekend proclamation said.
Down to the south in Guyana, authorities there are appealing to people to come out in numbers and be vaccinated as the country now has enough vaccines to immunize most of its estimated 900,000 citizens and build herd immunity.
Health Minister Frank Anthony said doctors now have a batch of 600,000 doses mostly of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine. “We can meet that herd immunity target, surpassing many countries. We can do it because we have ordered 800,000 doses to cover 400,000 persons and that means our entire adult population,” the local Stabroek News newspaper reported.
The latest measures in Trinidad, meanwhile, include a ban on alcoholic consumption in public places, severe limitations on outdoor sports and activities, hiking and visits top beaches among others.