Parliament will today enforce regulations under the Public Health Ordinance (PHO) that will give Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh power to shut down bars, casinos, members’ clubs and restaurants across the country during the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Owners of such establishments who fail to close during the period stipulated will be imprisoned for six months, according to the Public Health (2019) Novel Coronavirus Regulations 2020.
Enforcement of the new law will help control and prevent the spread of the virus, mainly in bars and clubs, but also in restaurants that provide seating and dining to customers.
The ordinance stated that the business of a bar, whether or not the person is licensed under the Liquor Licenses Act, will face jail. These regulations will come into force tomorrow and expire on April 20, 2020.
The move comes one day after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley urged the population to limit public gatherings to ten people in public places in an attempt to curb the virus’ spread in T&T. Rowley also warned that a crackdown was coming on bars and river limes.
At yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, National Security Minister Stuart Young said with regards to the closure of bars and restaurants, the Government will go to Parliament “tomorrow” (today) with limited legislation.“One of the things we looked at overnight and the Attorney General advised the Cabinet today, and we accepted it under the old Public Health Ordinance, it allows the Minister of Health certain regulations.”Deyalsingh, who attended the press conference, agreed with the move.
The regulations, Young said, will be enforced, “stopping the opening of bars … allowing restaurants to just serve food with no in-house dining … dealing with casinos and other members clubs.”This measure, Young said, would prevent people from gathering for the next few weeks, which is expected to be the peak period of the virus.“The regulations that will come into play by the Minister of Health now give further legal authority that is outside of the law of loitering for us to literally close down bars.
Meaning, all bars will be suspended and you will be seeing from that, no bar can be opened. That is now going to be pronounced in law,” Young said.“We are pleading with you to self-quarantine yourself without us having to use the full force of the law.”Young said police officers have also been out visiting bars and other establishments to see if owners have been complying with the request to keep their businesses closed.“At this stage, we don’t want to go down the road of any heavy hand,” he said.Young noted, however, that over 90 per cent of bar owners have complied with the order to close their bars and not serve customers. But he said some people are still being socially irresponsible with their actions.
Contacted by Guardian Media after the post-Cabinet media briefing, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi confirmed the validity of the new law. He said the Government was left with no choice because some people were not adhering to the recommendations on the closure of bars.
He said the time frame for the regulations from March 21 to April 20 could always be adjusted upward or downward as the Government sees fit as the country seeks to fight the virus off.