Government may be unlikely to postpone next Monday’s general election even though 12 more COVID-19 cases were reported yesterday but further measures may be announced today to protect the public from the virus, top PNM sources said yesterday.
They spoke after an announcement that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley will hold a media briefing at noon today.
Rowley is expected to update the public on what more may be done to curb spread and is likely to give an update on the August 20 SEA examination and other matters, the source added.
When cases began increasing last week, Rowley had said if T&T continues to have the same numbers going forward, more drastic action will have to be taken. He’d said Government was in watch mode, to make decisions “if things go in certain directions.”
T&T began experiencing a second wave of COVID cases in the last two weeks with several cluster cases. T&T’s total was 169 last Friday. The Health Ministry reported that the total number stood at 194 as of yesterday evening.
So far 11 schools have been closed due to COVID exposure.
Yesterday, PNM officials said it was unlikely the election would be postponed.
After cases began increasing last Friday, Government reverted the numbers of people allowed to congregate in groups from the recent figure of 25 to the initial lockdown limit of ten people.
The Public Service was also mandated to have staffers work in reduced numbers. The rollback was described as the fundamental response to reducing the number of people exposed. However, the numbers of people attending churches, funerals and working indoors with social distancing remained untouched.
Rowley had also said Government was keeping an eye on the SEA exam as contact tracing continues and if the COVID trend continued in “any significant way, next Monday or Tuesday” Government would “act on the school system.’’
On the planned September 1 school reopening, he’d said if there was no SEA there would be no results to have students enter new schools. The current rise in cases has prompted speculation the SEA may be postponed.
Last week, Rowley also said Government would observe the situation with public transport and that may have required intervention “if the trend in the next 72 hours into next week continues.”
When business reopened in June, public transport was allowed to move from carrying half passenger loads with windows down, up to full capacity. Vehicles are currently moving with full passenger loads, windows up and A/C units blasting.
Rowley had also said bars and restaurants would be monitored. Health authorities had pointed out that several new COVID cases became infected in bars. He’d said anytime further information was obtained on this continuing, Government would act to further reduce public exposure. Bars are currently open until 8 pm.
The day after the measures were announced and Rowley had to appeal to citizens—especially Southerners, some of whom he said were not observing COVID protocols—and he had to again call for people not to congregate or assemble in large groups. Yesterday, Government officials said South was at risk since four schools there had to be closed recently due to COVID exposure.
He especially appealed to UNC members and supporters to stop organising large groups of people to walk around neighbourhoods. He said this action provides fertile conditions to fuel outbreak of the virus. Rowley said there were many other ways to reach the electorate.
President says postponing polls is Govt’s call
On July 31, the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) group had appealed to President Paula-Mae Weekes to postpone the upcoming election in the interest of citizens’ health and safety. FFOS stated yesterday a reply was received from Weekes on Monday.
In that letter, the President’s office explained that the President shared T&T’s concern given the increase of COVID cases and that public safety and protection of life is of paramount consideration.
The President’s letter stated that in any case of postponement of an election the first step has to be taken by the Executive and “Her Excellency’s discretion is invoked thereafter.” It was noted that Government could adjourn polling day in the event of any emergency as stated in the Representation of the People Act (34 (1)). The letter also stated any postponement could only be for 30 days.
FFOS yesterday stated, “Given that the Chief Medical Officer has confirmed that (Monday) alone we have 10 new positive cases of COVID-19, FFOS respectfully calls on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to carefully consider the risks involved in holding an election during this second wave. Is it worth risking public health while the virus is escalating with local spread?”
“The Hong Kong Government has taken lead and has postponed its September’s parliamentary elections by a year, saying it is necessary amid a rise in coronavirus infections. FFOS is appealing to the Prime Minister to postpone or defer the election for thirty days and to immediately call for a national lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19. Public health must be our first priority.’’