17 May COVID-19 Update: Restrictions Update
The surge in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in Trinidad and Tobago has continued almost unabated over the past few weeks with new cases being reported by the hundreds each day. This surge has exerted significant pressure on public health resources in the country and poses a real and grave risk of overwhelming the existing systems put in place to cope with the virus. In an attempt to mitigate the risk and to combat the spread of the virus, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has taken the view that more stringent measures are necessary.
The following summarises the measures that have been implemented by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and which are currently in force.
Last updated: 17th May 2021
The primary measures and restrictions currently in force in Trinidad and Tobago, as of 17th May 2021, are consolidated into the following regulations:
- The Emergency Powers Regulations, 2021 (the ‘SOE Regulations’); and
- The Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)] (No. 16) Regulations 2021 (the ‘Public Health Regulations’).
These legislative instruments reflect the most up-to-date measures which are intended to remain be in force for the foreseeable future.
OVERVIEW – STATE OF EMERGENCY AND RESTRICTED ACTIVITIES/ BUSINESSES
The SOE Regulations impose a curfew in which no persons are allowed to be outside of their private dwelling homes between the hours of 9:00 pm to 5:00 am save and except in certain prescribed circumstances.
The SOE Regulations also continue the restrictions on activities and businesses in effect under previous Public Health Ordinance regulations along with other newly introduced restrictions,.
These measures include the following:
- No person is allowed to be at any work place unless the services performed are deemed to be “essential services” in accordance with the SOE Regulations. Notwithstanding that a service might be “essential”, a person may only be present at a work place in circumstances where it is not possible to perform the relevant functions at home.
- No person is allowed to be in a public place unless it is for the purpose of one of the exempted services.
- Religious or ecclesiastical activities are generally prohibited save for certain exceptional circumstances and provided they are performed in accordance with the SOE Regulations.
- Small and large businesses that are in operation are continued to require compliance with the guidelines for Small and Large businesses issued by the Ministry of Health.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
The Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago (the ‘Constitution’) provides for a person’s inalienable fundamental human rights which include (among others) the right to life, the right to enjoyment of property, the right to freedom of movement and the right freedom of association and assembly. These rights can only be limited in certain circumstances.
The Constitution allows the President to declare a state of emergency where a public emergency (such as the outbreak of an infectious disease) has arisen. During the period of the state of emergency, Parliament may pass legislation that has effect even though it is inconsistent with a person’s fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Constitution. However, the legislation must:
- Expressly declare to have effect only during that period; and
- Its provisions are reasonably justifiable for the purpose of dealing with the public emergency (in this instance, the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus).
The legislation passed may also give additional powers to police officers and the army. However, the powers given must be exercised only in accordance with the legislation and does not give unfettered power to police officer and army personnel.
The term “reasonably justifiable” is interpreted and determined by the Courts of Trinidad and Tobago.
CURFEW AND POWERS OF THE POLICE
There is now a mandatory curfew in place in which no person is allowed to be outside of their private dwelling homes during the hours of 9:00 pm to 5:00 am every day, save for certain circumstances.
A person may be allowed outside of their private dwelling home during the hours of 9:00 pm to 5:00 am if:
- They have the authorisation of the Commissioner of Police or a person or authority that is authorised by him; or
- The person is involved in providing services in the nature of activities such as legal services, the Judiciary and certain courts, emergency services, emergency essential and maintenance services, health services, financial and insurance services, manufacture, transportation and logistics services which operate on a 24-hour basis, maritime transportation workers, port workers, mariners and equipment operators and people who repair and maintain vehicles for those purposes, postal and shipping services, manufacturers and distributors of food, beverages and pharmaceuticals, the media, energy services and petroleum industries. A full list of the exemptions is contained in Regulation 4(5) of the SOE Regulations.
Where employees providing exempted services are required to be outside of their private dwelling homes between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., it is strongly recommended that an employer apply for curfew passes by submitting a letter to the Commissioner of Police containing the following information:
- The classification of the type of business/organisation;
- The number of personnel requiring passes, their names and designations;
- The registered address of the business and the location of their operations; and
- Contact information.
Notably, the Police and Defence Force have been given additional powers by the SOE Regulations which allows them to:
- Prohibit or restrict the possession or use by a person of a specified article;
- Prohibit a person from travelling except in accordance with permission that may be given to him;
- Require a person to leave or to not go to a place or area;
- To disperse a gathering, direct a person to return to his home, or to remove a person from the place, if they are of the view that the number of persons gathered in the place contravenes the SOE Regulations. It is critical to note that the police powers here are not restricted to public places; or
- To arrest a person, without a warrant, who they reasonably suspect has acted, is acting, or is about to act in a manner that may be prejudicial to public health, public safety, or public order, or who has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a breach of the SOE Regulations.
RESTRICTED ACTIVITIES/ BUSINESSES
The “work from home” order remains in place, by which no person is allowed to be at a work place unless: (a) the services performed are specified in the SOE Regulations; and (b) such services cannot be performed from home.
The SOE Regulations prevent the general gathering of persons at a public place, unless it is for the purpose of one of the specified services or the gathering does not exceed five (5) persons.
The following are some of the work places which are permitted to operate notwithstanding the restrictions:
- Legal services;
- The Judiciary and certain courts;
- Emergency services such as emergency call centres, the Police, Defence Force, Fire Services, Immigration Services, Police Complaints Authority and the Strategic Services Agency;
- Health services such as public and private hospitals, laboratories, infirmaries, nursing homes and funeral homes, pharmacies, veterinary services, emergency dental, optometric, physical and occupational therapy, and medical practitioners;
- Essential janitorial and maintenance services including for private homes;
- Hardware stores including plumbing establishments and retail electrical stores;
- Banks, financial institutions, non-banks and remittance facilities;
- Insurance companies and brokers;
- Live-in domestic workers and service providers who provide services for the safety, sanitation and essential operation of residences;
- Supermarkets, groceries, markets, green grocers, bakeries, poultry depots, fish/fruit stalls or shops and retail membership discount stores (provided that not more than 50% of the establishment’s ordinary retail capacity is surpassed);
- Retail membership discount stores for the provision of food, medicine or other necessities of life (provided that not more than 50% of the capacity is surpassed);
- Wholesale stores for the provision of food, medicine or other necessities of life;
- Hotels, guest houses and econo-lodges; and
- Energy and petroleum industries services.
A full list of the exceptional businesses can be found in Regulation 3(10) of the SOE Regulations.
RESTAURANTS, STREET VENDING AND BARS
The SOE Regulations continue to prohibit the operation of restaurants and bars in its entirety. Restaurants are not allowed to open whether for in-house dining or to provide take-away services. Bars are subject to similar restrictions in which both the sale and consumption of alcohol at the premises are prohibited.
The SOE Regulations prohibit the roadside sale, or offer for sale of any food or drink by street vendors.
Religious and ecclesiastical organisations may conduct religious meetings or services either by:
- Electronic means; or
- For the purposes of recording or live streaming of the religious activity,
where the gathering of persons at any place used for that purpose does not exceed five (5) persons.
Religious activities in respect of funerals and weddings may be conducted only if the number of persons that is in attendance does not exceed ten (10) persons. This extends to burial, cremation and wedding receptions.
SPORTING ACTIVITIES / GYMS
Gyms and fitness centres are to remain closed. There are now prohibitions on all group contact sports, participation in any team sports, outdoor sports and exercise in public places, except where authorised by the Minister of Health.
CLUBS, CASINOS, CINEMAS, SPAS AND SIMILAR ACTIVITIES
Clubs, casinos and cinemas, spas, hairdressers, nail and beauty technicians are fully prohibited from operation.
Public or private pre-school, early childhood education centres and day-cares are prohibited from operating in any capacity, be it for the care or education of young children.
However, primary schools, secondary schools, tertiary institutions and other post-secondary institutions may provide classes in person to certain groups where practicable. Practical, laboratory and other classes which are unsuitable for electronic means may be conducted in person.
The number of passengers permitted to be carried via public transport is restricted to fifty percent (50%) whether by way of a motor car or any other type of motor vehicle.
The SOE Regulations restrict the number of persons gathered in a public place to five (5) persons.
Persons are not allowed to visit any beach, river, stream, pond, spring or similar body of water or any public pool, mud volcano or other similar site for recreational purposes.
Raft-up boat meetings for recreational use remain prohibited. The term “raft-up” has been defined in the regulations as the roping together of several small vessels to form a raft-like structure.
There remains a restriction in place on the operation of water parks, amusement parks, dancehalls, party boats or clubs and public parties or public fetes.
Boat tours, including of the Buccoo Reef, Speyside or the Caroni Bird Sanctuary are also prohibited.
A person who breaches any of the above regulations is liable to a fine of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00) and to imprisonment for six (6) months.
The Public Health Regulations continue to provide for the mandatory use of face masks, face shields or face coverings (‘face masks’) specifically in the following circumstances, unless there is a reasonable excuse:
- While travelling in a vehicle or vessel (‘vehicle’); and
- While in a public space.
The mandatory use of a face mask in a vehicle does not apply in the following circumstances:
- To a child who is under the age of eight;
- If the person is in the vehicle alone; or
- If the person is allocated a cabin, berth or other similar accommodation in which they are alone.
A ‘reasonable excuse’ is defined to include the following circumstances:
- The person cannot put on, wear or remove a face mask because of any physical or mental illness, impairment, or disability; or without severe distress.
- The person is traveling with or providing assistance to another person, where such person relies on lip reading to communicate.
- The person removes the face mask to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of such harm or injury, to himself or others.
- The person is traveling to avoid injury or to escape a risk of harm and does not have a face mask.
- It is reasonably necessary for the person to eat or drink and such activity requires the removal of the face mask.
- The person has to take medication.
- A request is made to remove the face mask temporarily for security and identification purposes, if necessary, for the purpose of receiving services.
The owner or operator of a business which provides goods or services to the public is required to ensure that a member of the public is not permitted to enter or remain within any enclosed space within the premises unless the person is wearing a face mask.
The obligation on an owner or operator of a business does not apply in the following circumstances:
- To a child who is under the age of eight;
- To employees and agents of the person responsible for the business within an area that is designated for them, or within or behind a physical barrier, where the public has no access. However, the employee must wear a face mask when working in an enclosed public space.
NB: The face mask, face shield or face covering is required to cover the person’s mouth, nose and chin.
Failure to wear a face mask as prescribed above, without a reasonable excuse, will result in either of the following penalties:
|Failure to wear a mask in a vehicle||$1,000.00|
|Failure to ensure a child wears a mask in a vehicle||$1,000.00|
|Failure to wear a mask in public||$1,000.00|
|Failure to ensure a child wears a mask in public||$1,000.00|
Under the Public Health Regulations, the Minister of Health may direct persons to self-quarantine which is a departure from the state quarantine mandated previously. Non-compliance with the directions makes one liable to a $250,000 fine and imprisonment for a term of six (6) months.