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A group of men play a game of small goal football at Nelson Mandela Park in St Clair in February.  ANISTO ALVES
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Less than two months after giving permission for recreational sports comprising 22 people or less to take place, the Government through the Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh, has ordered it to be stopped from Friday.

This is due to the recent spike and deaths in the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic cases in Trinidad and Tobago.

This new development brings an end to the many football small-goal, basketball and other recreational sweats that have been taking place at sporting facilities, both indoor and outdoor, since February 20 when permission was initially given by the Minister of Sports and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe.

At the Government's weekly update on the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Deyalsingh made it clear that his government's action will not affect national and international teams, who are preparing for major competitions, but their actions were necessary due to people not adhering to the mask-wearing policy.

The T&T senior football team, known as the 'Soca Warriors' has been involved in World Cup qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

It defeated Guyana 3-0 in its opening match on March 25 in the Dominican Republic, which was scheduled to be their home game at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, and then later played to a 1-1 tie with Puerto Rico at the Estadio Jose Antonio Figueroa in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

The team, coached by Englishman Terry Fenwick, is expected to continue its preparation ahead of two more qualifying matches against the Bahamas on June 5 in the Bahamas, and St Kitts & Nevis on June 8, supposedly in T&T.

But in a bold move to treat with the fatal spike in the coronavirus cases, Minister Deyalsingh said: "After consulting with the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), the Minister of National Security and ultimately the Honourable Prime Minister who makes the final decisions, the Honourable Prime Minister has authorized me to implement the following measures: With regards to regulations 3(2) which deals with recreational team sports, limited to participants no more than 22 athletes where such sports are conducted outside of a building. As of tomorrow (today), that freedom we had to participate in recreational sports, both indoors and outdoors, unfortunately, we will have to roll back."

According to Deyalsingh: "Because what we have noticed is that persons are engaging in these sports, and we wanted to do it for people to maintain their physical health and mental health. But what we have noticed is that it is more than 22 people. The after-game lime is becoming dangerous, where food and drinks start to come out and people are congregating without mask-wearing.

So we are going back to how we were, so there will be, for the time being until further advised, we will be rolling back the recreational sports for team and contact sports, both indoor and outdoor. This measure will not affect training for our national and international teams."

But he emphasised, “This measure will not affect the training of national and international teams preparing for their international commitments, whether it’s World Cup or Olympics.”

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Contact sports ban reinstated after 3 COVID deaths
By Rishard Khan (T&T Guardian).

The Ministry of Health has reinstated a ban on contact sports in the face of rising COVID-19 cases.

The decision was announced by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh during an unscheduled virtual media conference yesterday, where it was revealed that Trinidad and Tobago had recorded three additional COVID deaths and 46 new cases over the previous 24 hours.

“As of tomorrow (today), that freedom we had to participate in recreational sports both indoors and outdoors, unfortunately, we have to rollback,” Deyalsingh said during the conference.

Deyalsingh explained that they were forced to take the action as there appears to be an air of complacency among the population some of whom seem to believe the pandemic is over for the country.

“We wanted to do it (allow the sports) for people to maintain their physical health and their mental health but ... we have noticed that it (sporting activities) is more than 22 people,” he said in reference to the fact that Government had recently eased the initial restriction for outdoor sports, which was set during the first wave of the disease, to allow a maximum of 22 people to participate in outdoor activity.

“The after-game lime is becoming dangerous, where food and drinks start to come out and people are congregating without mask-wearing. So we are going back to how we were.”

Commenting on the rising cases and the believed complacency among citizens, Deyalsingh added: “We at the Ministry of Health are very concerned about the recent trend in high numbers, numbers which we have not seen since last year - 40s, 20s, 30s per day.

“If we extrapolate those numbers into the future without doing something now, the situation is going to become untenable in that cases are going to mount to hundreds.”

Deyalsingh said the move will not affect the training of national teams preparing for regional and international commitments.

“Our national and international teams preparing for their international commitments, whether it’s CONCACAF, World Cup, Olympics...that goes on as usual,” he said.

He said the decision was approved by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and was recommended after consultations with Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram and Minister of National Security Stuart Young.

This is the first roll-back for the country since the second, less stringent “lockdown” was implemented on August 17 to deal with the country’s second phase of infections which began on July 20, 2020.

The ministry’s technical director of the Epidemiology Division, Dr Avery Hinds, had noted on Monday that the upward trend in cases began two weeks after the restriction on the sporting activities was removed on February 21. He said while contact tracing was unable to conclusively link any of the new cases to the activities themselves, it seemed to link the cases to the associated gatherings before, during and after.

The country has recorded three new COVID-19-related deaths bringing the country’s fatality count up to 145.

In its latest update yesterday, the ministry confirmed 46 additional cases from samples collected between March 29 and 31. This brought the total number of people infected locally to 8,072, with 309 active cases, 234 in home self-isolation, 23 at hospitals and six in step-down facilities.

On March 23, CMO Parasram had cautioned that the country appeared to be on the verge of a significant increase in COVID-19 cases. At the time of his warning, the majority of cases were in County Caroni but data collected up to last week now shows more cases across other counties. The rapid spread of the virus since then has now led to the monitoring of local samples for new variant strains of the disease.

Addressing the data collection yesterday, Parasram said, “We started a couple of weeks ago when we had the increase in Caroni and Victoria to actually do some sequencing of the local cases just to make sure none of the persons we’re picking up the variant as well … because we see a quicker rate of spread than we would have anticipated at this point in time, so we have sent those across to the UWI lab via CARPHA (Caribbean Public Health Agency) for sampling.

“No samples have yet returned positive for variants of concern. Previously, only samples collected from repatriated nationals were being tested for variants of concern.”

The last time over 40 cases were confirmed in one day by the ministry was in November 2020, with 44 cases. The last time the country recorded three deaths in one day was in October 2020.

Presenting an epidemiological update yesterday, Parasram noted that the country has been in this position before. He said the current trend mimics that of the beginning of the second phase of infections which peaked in August/September.

“You will see they look very similar, if not exactly the same and that is a concern. It means we’re beginning to upsurge again and we want to stop that peak going all the way up like we saw in August and September of 2020,” he said.

Health officials have also called on citizens to remain vigilant, especially over the Easter holidays, more than once in recent days.