No covid19 vaccination, no access to ‘safe zones’ from October 11 – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. - Photo by Sureash Cholai
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. – Photo by Sureash Cholai

IN about two weeks’ time, Trinidad and Tobago’s entertainment spots and food outlets will be designated “safe zones” where only vaccinated staff and patrons may enter, the Prime Minister told a briefing on Thursday at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.

The safe zones will take effect on October 11, Dr Rowley said.

“We will provide approval for restaurants, cinemas, bars that have restaurant service, entertainment places, NAPA, SAPA, Queens Hall, places like that, to be utilised by the population, but by the vaccinated population. Choice.

“If you are vaccinated these facilities will be available to you. It will come into force from Monday, October 11.”

He reckoned TT now has half a million vaccinated individuals, but these must show proof of vaccination at the safe zones.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young reiterated safe zones were for only the vaccinated.

“They are going to be applicable, all other things being equal, from October 11, cinemas and theatres – NAPA, SAPA, Queens Hall; casinos and betting shops; bars and restaurants; gyms and fitness centres and those kinds of things; studios to vaccinated persons over the age of 12,” he said.

“The owners of these safe zones are required to make sure that all the employees operating in these safe zones – for example a restaurant and a bar – are fully vaccinated. They will also be required to have proof of vaccination of all employees operating in the safe zone on the premises.

“The patrons in these premises can only be fully vaccinated people, who will be required to walk with proof of vaccination, their physical vaccination cards, to provide it to the enforcement officers.” Enforcement will be by the police and public health officers, he added.

Young said establishment owners will be legally liable for ensuring their staff and patrons were fully vaccinated and must display a poster saying it is a safe zone.

Any owner violating this duty, will be subject to a fine which is now being considered, and which could increase for repeated offences.

This tiered system of penalties could consist of a suspension for each of a first and second offence, and for a third offence a reversion to only a take-away food service excluding dining-in.

“Also in the first instance, because it is a big roll out, there will be no consumption of alcohol on the premises. So the bars and restaurants, you are free to serve food, you are free to serve soft drinks etcetera, but this is in the first instance because we want to get people back out.” Such places would run at 50 per cent capacity at first, Young said.

The Prime Minister said rather than being new and oppressive measures, such strictures already exist such as a non-sale of alcohol to minors and the age-rating of movies at cinemas. “So that model is already in place and we are using that model to treat with the virus which is now even more of a concern than what movie you watch or what drink you may drink as under-age person. This is a matter of life and death.” Rowley said from Monday, the nightly curfew will start at 10 pm, which is now 9 pm.

Newsday asked if the establishment owners could challenge the idea of safe zones under their constitutional right to enjoy their property and whether unvaccinated patrons denied entry could sue under the Equal Opportunity Act.

Rowley replied, “I expect that would be a very interesting development in the court. What we do enjoy now is an equal opportunity of getting infected and an equal opportunity of ending up by Simpson (the undertaker.)” He said the alternative to safe zones was to maintain the status quo of closed entertainment spots, but he did not want that.

Otherwise the PM said a court could rule on the reasonableness or otherwise of safe zones.

Asked about the possibility of forged vaccination cards used to try to enter a safe zone, Rowley said this was a serious crime and the country has strict laws and serious consequences against such falsification. Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said vaccination cards can be cross-referenced to the ministry’s online data base.

Young was considering increasing the fine for such falsification and allowing digital evidence of vaccination.

He expected this latter system to be ready in 6-8 weeks time. “Right now data entry is taking place. Software is available.”

Rowley said the safe zones were a huge step for TT, amid an admission the country must accept it has to live with the covid19 virus including the delta variant.

On Monday’s return of pupils of forms 4-6 to school, the PM said TT was “nowhere near” its target of a 70-80 per cent rate of vaccination, as only 39,000 pupils had been vaccinated.

He said unvaccinated pupils would have “alternative arrangements”, a likely reference to online learning.

Regarding unvaccinated teachers, PM replied, “The protection is in the students.”

Of the vaccination strategy, the PM said, “We are not a dictator nor bullying.”