Cabinet and the Minister of Health were advised of the possible spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) back in January.
In fact, it was Cabinet that advised President Paula-Mae Weekes to issue a proclamation about the existence of the coronavirus.
According to the Presidential proclamation dated January 31, "Trinidad and Tobago was recently advised by the World Health Organization of the existence of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a highly infectious and dangerous disease which is currently occurring in various locations around the world."
The proclamation also said that "the Minister of Health believes that due to the speed and ease of international travel, Trinidad and Tobago can ultimately expect the arrival of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and the devastating effect on its public health."
On Saturday, the Office of the President, in response to questions from Guardian Media, said "Her Excellency proclaimed the virus "an infectious disease" on the advice of Cabinet as she was bound to do."
According to media reports, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh first warned against public gathering shortly after Carnival ended.
For more than three weeks before Carnival and in the middle of fetes, parties and international visitors, there was no warning of the possible importation of the virus.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, some 30,710 visitors entered the country for the year. The majority coming in from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Back in January, it was reported that Cabinet was discussing the protocols to be activated in the event of the virus entering the country.
At that time Guardian Media reported that many citizens were calling for the postponement of the festivities.
The country's first COVID-19 fatality was a 77-year-old man who had come into the country for Carnival. The man, Hansel Leon arrived in the country on February 5, 2020, and only presented with symptoms at the hospital on March 13. This means that the known Carnival lover would have been in the country for over a month before becoming ill.
The country's second COVID-19 victim is a 66-year-old man who travelled abroad less than 14 days before dying at the hospital.
The Ministry of Health did not disclose the date on which the patient returned to Trinidad or how long he had been displaying symptoms before he went to the hospital. The ministry said it activated its response protocols after the second death and the county medical officer started contact tracing for all persons who had close interaction with the patient.
Though the Cabinet, the Minister of Health and the Government were all apprised by the WHO about the virus on January 30, the Speaker of the House denied Opposition Member Dr Tim Gopeesingh's attempt to raise it for discussion on Parliament on that same day.
Gopeesingh attempted then to raise it as a matter of urgent public importance but was shot down by Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George. He raised it another two times in Parliament.
The matter was also raised for discussion in Senate but was also dismissed.
In telephone interviews yesterday, both Gopeesingh and Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said that the matter was raised in Parliament three times (in January, February and March) and once in the Senate and the Opposition was shut down every time.
"In January we sought to raise it because the WHO was on the verge of saying it was a pandemic, so we knew that Carnival was coming up and we would have 30,000 to 40,000 visitors coming into the country," Gopeesingh said.
"We wanted to have a discussion about the training of medical staff, about bringing in equipment and making sure that the hospitals were ready for what could happen."
Persad-Bissessar said that the law was clear, the President could only make a proclamation if directed by the Cabinet. She said it was unclear why they chose to ignore the Opposition calls for discussions before the virus came to the country.
"And now we have to listen to this ad hoc, off-the-collar press conferences by the Minister of Health," she said.
Guardian Media messaged Deyalsingh asking about the presidential proclamation and the fact that the WHO advised that the virus was on the rise. Guardian Media also asked whether people were advised against gatherings before Carnival.
The Minister did not respond.
Guardian Media then called the minister from another number. He answered and when the media house identified itself, Deyalsingh directed that all "inquiries should be sent to the corporate communications department" at the Ministry of Health.