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By Theresa Goodwin

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Government has announced further relaxation of lockdown restrictions – allowing barbers, hairdressers and nail technicians to reopen for business from Monday. The 6am to 6pm curfew window will remain in effect for at least one more week, government said last night.

These small business owners will be required to adhere to strict safety measures to contain the spread of Covid-19, including the wearing of face masks by both operators and clients.

Another significant declaration was plans to soon reopen churches on Saturdays and Sundays for services. While details are yet to be finalised, Cabinet said members of a single household will be able to sit together, but all worshippers must wear masks and a space of two pews be maintained between household clusters.

Churchgoers will also be required to wear masks while driving to a church service. Where churches are too small to keep attendees six feet apart, religious leaders should consider holding multiple services throughout the day, Cabinet said.

For now, social gatherings are still limited to two people and no more than two should be in a vehicle at any one time.

Information Minister Melford Nicholas emphasised these points when he spoke to reporters at the weekly post-Cabinet press conference last night. He also explained that discussions on guidelines for religious organisations will continue in the coming weeks, confirming churches remain closed until at least mid-May.

“While we have signalled an intent to relax those regulations, we will still want to have discussions with the church groups in terms of how best to resume and maintain those safety standards. There is an intention to relax but we still must have those conversations,” Nicholas said.

As it relates to barber shops and beauty salons, he explained that Health Minister Molwyn Joseph and business owners will work together to fine tune operating details in line with Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) guidelines.

“We are also in receipt of a number of self-defined regulations from a number of beauty salons in particular and those have been submitted to the Minister of Health for consideration. Over the next coming days all relevant parties will be engaged and coming out of that will be new protocols by which they will operate,” Nicholas said.

He also cautioned people “not to rush” when these establishments reopen on Monday.

Other changes include the resumption of sending money, in addition to being able to receive

it, at Western Union and other money transfer companies. And real estate agents will also be able to show properties to prospective clients, while adhering to social distancing rules and wearing masks.

Meanwhile, beachgoers will now be able to get some much-needed sun, sea and sand on weekends too. Beaches will reopen on Saturdays and Sundays in addition to weekdays. Additionally, members of a single household will now be permitted to travel to the beach together in a family vehicle, provided all occupants are wearing face masks. When the beaches reopened on Tuesday, only two persons from a single household were allowed to venture out together.

Food, music and picnicking on beaches remains prohibited.

There was a glimmer of hope for restaurants too. They may continue to operate take-out and delivery service only for the next week, but talks are underway regarding allowing customers to soon dine on the premises again.

To date, Antigua and Barbuda has recorded 25 cases of the coronavirus and three deaths; 16 people have recovered from the illness, according to official government figures.

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