Tue | Oct 19, 2021

Gov’t hints at possibility of public servants being vaccinated as more sectors of economy re-open

Published:Saturday | September 25, 2021 | 12:12 AM
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley

The Trinidad and Tobago government has hinted at the possibility of having public servants vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19), even as it maintained that it was not pushing for mandatory vaccination as a policy to curb the spread of the virus that has so far killed 1,437 and infected 49,442 others since March last year.

“We have not today assigned that to government employees. But if it becomes necessary, we will,” Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said as his administration on Thursday announced that safe zones for the fully vaccinated people will come into effect from October 11, reiterating also that in-person classes for fully vaccinated senior secondary students will begin on October 4.

The government, which also announced a one-hour reduction in the daily curfew hours, said that fully vaccinated people will be allowed to participate in several activates, including in-house dining, going to cinemas, gyms and casinos.

“We are accepting that we have to live with the virus. We living with the virus with a vaccination programme and hoping for co-operation from the population,” Rowley said.

SAFE ZONES

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young said that “in the safe zones business owners would be required to make sure that all of the employees are fully vaccinated.

“They are also required to have proof of the vaccination of all of the employees operating in the safe zone on the premises,” Young said, adding that patrons must also have the vaccination cards on them as proof of their vaccination status “to provide it to the enforcement officers”.

“At this time, we are looking at the enforcement officers being the police service and public health officers,” he said.

But asked by reporters whether the measure of being vaccinated should apply solely to workers in the private sector, Prime Minister Rowley replied that while the government is a major employer, “we have not today assigned that to government employees.

“But if it becomes necessary, we will. The government has taken up a whole lot of the response to the virus. For example, all government employees have got their full emoluments during this pandemic,” he said.

“People who are in the private sector …where the business just could not carry the burden, many persons have lost their jobs. But what we did was to make sure that the population got its means of survival with the government carrying at taxpayers’ expense a huge burden.”

He added, “It is the same thing here. To get more activity in the country, especially to those persons who have been carrying the burden of the shutdown, give them an opportunity to conduct their businesses because we now know that it is possible to reduce the risk through the vaccination programme and as we bring more and more people out, it is possible that a few more persons will get infected…but we are hoping and we are anticipating that persons will see that exposure and say that infection I am exposed to, I can ameliorate it with a vaccine.”

THE RULE MODEL

Rowley said that the rule model being used in a pandemic is already in use and has been implemented successfully in several countries.

“Our national policy has been to let the population make that decision, persuaded by gentle law enforcement. If you don’t believe me, just look at the CARICOM region, look at what other CARICOM regions are having to face,” he said.

He told reporters that some Caribbean countries had taken “draconian” and “dictatorial measures” by Trinidad and Tobago standards to deal with the pandemic and that imposition of harsher measures for unvaccinated people around the world is seen as bullying and interpreted as “taking away rights”.

“I see it being interpreted as standing between man and God and taking away your licence to walk into heaven. All of that I have seen,” Rowley said.

Young said that there would also be an increase in fines for those persons using fake vaccination cards and said that the government was examining the digitisation of the system.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said that the enforcement and cross-checking of immunisation cards would allow for catching those using fake cards, with Rowley reminding the population that the falsification of a government document was illegal and those caught in such acts would face significant penalties.