As the Trinidad and Tobago economy begins to feel the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic fallout, the Government is moving to announce initiatives to provide a source of income to those who lose jobs during this time.
On Friday the Parliament passed the Public Health Ordinance Regulations which now legally forces bars, clubs, casinos, cinemas and members’ clubs from opening and restaurants and other food businesses from having dine-in services.
Already, there have been reports of people losing jobs in these areas, with bars and clubs being the hardest hit, and other related industries. In fact, only on Thursday Media 21 Limited, which provides audiovisual technology services, sent all of its 21 staff members on no-pay leave.
Speaking on i95.5 FM on Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said his Government is putting things in place for retrenched workers.
“If there are people who have lost their jobs, for example, if you were working in a bar and you can’t pay your rent because the bar has been shut down to protect the public, what the Government is going to do is help you get an income if you lost your job at the bar.”
The Prime Minister said further details will be given at a news conference at 2 pm today.
Rowley also revealed that he has been advised that the effects of the pandemic could last as long as May, or even further.
As such, he said the Government will go to Parliament this week to get approval to draw down from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund to get money to assist those in need.
“Nobody knows how long this is going to last but it looks as if, with the information we have from the epidemiologists, is that this thing could last well into May and then after that, there are some who are saying it can go longer than that,” the Prime Minister said.
He admitted that if the virus’ spread goes on for a long time the Government’s ability to fund support programmes will be very stressed, noting Government will have to be cautions about this process. “We do not have an infinite amount of money,” he noted.
One of the fallouts from the response to the virus’ arrival here has been panic buying, which has led to shortages of some items--particularly cleaning and sanitising products.
But there have also been many complaints from citizens regarding companies that have increased prices for those goods, which are critically needed during this worldwide emergency.
In response to this, Rowley said the Government has no plans to institute price controls but insisted that such activity will be monitored and guilty businesses will be made to pay one way or the other.
“The Ministry of Trade has indicated that we’ll be monitoring price gougers and we will not hesitate in identifying them and ask the population to boycott them.”
He said all hands need to be on deck and that includes the opposition United National Congress (UNC), whom he accused of play politics with the COVID-19 issue.
The Government and Opposition met on Friday to discuss the matter but in the Prime Minister’s view, it was an exercise in futility.
“They brought nothing to the table that was new or that was more valuable than what all the other doctors have given to us.”
He described the meeting as a political agenda of the opposition.
In an apparent break from this, Opposition MP Fuad Khan yesterday revealed he had volunteered his services to the COVID-19 fight. (See page 11)
Rowley maintained that at this time every stakeholder has a part to play if the country is to survive this crisis.
He also said the general elections, which are due this year, were not a priority at this time.
“You see right now, I am not concerned about the politics of the next election, I am concerned about keeping the people of Trinidad and Tobago safe.”
Up to yesterday, T&T had recorded 50 cases of the virus with 306 people having been tested.