There is now a ban by some supermarkets on customers who are not wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19.
But while some supermarkets are turning away such customers, masks are in short supply due to the COVID-19 crisis and masks which Government promised to distribute haven’t materialised yet.
The development has arisen after the Health Ministry’s advice last Sunday to members of the public to wear masks when going outdoors to conduct essential business to curb COVID-19 spread. This was based on the recommendation by the US’ Centre for Disease Control (CDC) to Americans use masks.
But the wearing of masks wasn’t stated as T&T law or placed in Public Health ordinance regulations on the COVID crisis.
After Health conveyed the recommendation, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced her teams would make masks to distribute. Government then subsequently said it would also be distributing masks by the end of this week.
On Tuesday, the Local Government Ministry stated that regional corporations’ Disaster Management Units would assist the Health Ministry in mask distribution. But yesterday several corporations said they had no word on masks and Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein said he was awaiting word from the Health Ministry on the matter.
The availability of masks became even more important after the Supermarkets’ Association of T&T this week issued a notice that customers were “strongly advised” to wear masks.
Yesterday, a customer at Massy Stores, Woodbrook, was told by a male employee at the entrance that they couldn’t enter the grocery without a mask. A security staffer stood by. A female employee who answered Massy’s phone confirmed to Guardian Media that customers need masks to gain entries to their supermarkets. She said Massy’s head office issued the directive.
However, another large supermarket chain said they didn’t have mandatory mask-wearing since customers were already largely using masks. But they said sanitising and social distancing were being enforced and counters are constantly being cleaned after goods were cashed. Several smaller groceries said they also weren’t debarring mask-less customers but insisted on hand washing/sanitising before entry and strict social distancing inside.
Contacted yesterday, Supermarkets’ Association head Rajiv Diptee said they took its position at a recent meeting with members, including Massy. He said the need to curb COVID-19 spread was understood but SATT didn’t state mask-less customers should be barred from entry to supermarkets. He, however, recognised some owners wanted to protect their places.
He said he’d spoken to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, who’d understood that government-distributed masks weren’t available yet. Diptee said SATT approved of cloth or handkerchief masks but frowned on people wearing hats or sun “shades” unless they had a religious or medical reason.
Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez said yesterday that he didn’t know when his corporation would get masks to distribute. While he commiserated with those who needed to buy food and didn’t have masks, he said he understood why supermarkets may want to protect their area.
He said he believes masks may arrive next week.
“They may have to source material, elastic, thread to get it done by people making this. If you have to furnish all T&T, you’ll need a million. Therefore, it means they’ll have to give high-density areas first or people may get via their MP. But you can make a mask at home,” Martinez said.
Princes Town Regional Corporation chairman Gowrie Roopnarine added, “Since the announcement people are calling me nonstop. Today (yesterday), I got over 100 calls but we’ve heard nothing.”
Tunapuna councillor Paul Leacock also said nobody’s yet indicated when masks would arrive.
MP Roodal Moonilal, who distributed to elderly constituents yesterday, said it was unjust for supermarkets to ban customers who lacked masks.
“We’d recommended mask-wearing. Government subsequently advised on it. But they didn’t make it law as a requirement, or part of COVID regulations,” Moonilal said.
“Government hasn’t provided masks and stock is largely sold out. Today, we clap for law enforcement and health workers but we only have a slap for Government, which has made a mess by urging mask-wearing late, promising masks then not delivering. So now people getting squeezed.”
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said the wearing of masks wasn’t in law or the Public Health Ordinance. But he said if businesses chose, they could prevent persons without masks from entering their property.
“Improvise - use a rag or kerchief,” he advised the public.
On supermarket customers’ dilemma, Social Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis also suggested,”... Use a scarf or bandana to cover your mouth and nostrils.”
FEEL starts Govt
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh says Government’s masks distribution will be handled by the Foundation for the Enhancement of LIFE (FEEL).
The activity was confirmed by FEEL CEO Elena Villafana Sylvester via a media release.
“FEEL is a registered charitable organisation that works to assist disadvantaged persons across Trinidad and Tobago, through a network of over 100 non-profit organisations. In this instance, FEEL’s role involves the collection of reusable masks from local manufacturers who have come forward in support of this initiative,” Villafana Sylvester said.
She said FEEL will distribute the masks in accordance with guidelines from the Government and through a mix of strategies including mobilisation of its network.
“FEEL has embarked on the logistics to effectively manage the distribution process and will notify the national community via the local media and social media on the details for collection of cloth masks by households in each community,” she said.
And while regional corporations await Government’s masks, UNC general secretary Dev Tancoo said their mask distribution began on Tuesday and at least 300 more will be distributed today.