Phase three of the lifting of pandemic restrictions kicks in Monday with the long-anticipated resumption of retail activities in malls and the country’s commercial centres.
Operators of small, medium and micro enterprises, who were hardest hit when non-essential activities were shut down in late March, can now begin the process of recovery. Families that had been without income will once again be able to make ends meet.
But this is not a return to normal and any who might be so inclined should immediately set aside any notions of business as usual. Life will be anything but normal for the foreseeable future.
The coming week will test the capacity of citizens to be disciplined as T&T tentatively moves toward the next phases of the reopening and the resumption of some activities that require close contact. Indeed, indiscipline will be this nation’s downfall, quickly erasing all the progress made in flattening the COVID-19 curve.
Phase four is due to take effect on June 8 when barbers, hairdressers and spas resume operations and domestic employees return to work. Then in phase five, set to start on June 22, places of worship will reopen as well as beaches and rivers and sporting activities will be allowed to resume.
At every stage, the very challenging work of keeping the coronavirus out of this country continues. Hopefully, all the warnings will be heeded, and precautions scrupulously followed, including the wearing of face masks and maintaining physical distancing.
This country has recorded one new COVID-19 case after going more than a month without doing so. The last time a person tested positive for the virus was on April 27. Now the figure of positive cases in this country stands at 117. The threat still lurks. There is no way to guarantee that easing the restrictions will not trigger a second wave of infections.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 may never be wiped out entirely.
That is why the steps to be taken over the next few weeks are so critical, and the Government and the public health authorities must continue to provide guidance and support.
Workers who are resuming duties from Monday have experienced massive changes to their daily lives, and in many cases, those changes have been rapid and abrupt, such as loss of income.
Economic activity will gradually return but conditions will still be very different for employees and workplaces. The double blows from a pandemic and plunging commodity prices mean that unemployment and job security issues will confront this country for some time to come.
The recent mothballing of some petrochemical plants at Point Lisas are likely the early warning signs of changing labour market conditions that might get worse. So while some activities are resuming, the easing of the displacements suffered in many sectors might be slow.
Social assistance cannot be phased out at the same pace as the pandemic restrictions are being eased. The Rowley administration needs to be mindful of that fact.
The crisis and the pain it inflicted is not yet behind us.