by Gemma Handy
Barbudans will today be waking up to a new partial lockdown – which includes a 17-hour daily curfew – after the number of confirmed Covid cases for the tiny sister isle climbed to four.
Schools will be closed and most residents barred from leaving home between noon and 5am for the next five days.
The tough Council-imposed measures are in a bid to protect the “small, tight-knit community” and keep the island’s 1,200 residents safe.
Barbuda had managed to evade the potentially deadly virus for a full 10 months after it appeared in Antigua in March 2020. The smaller island recorded its first case – imported from the US – on January 7, followed by a second one a week later.
Teachers and students have been urged to stay indoors at all times for the duration of the shutdown which runs until February 5.
Only essential workers are allowed to operate, while anyone who had been planning a day trip to Barbuda is also warned that leisure tours have been barred until at least the weekend.
Ferries – carrying no more than 25 passengers per vessel – along with planes, may only arrive between 5am and 12pm, except for emergencies.
The curfew does not apply to essential services such as cargo, fuel and sand barges, medical evacuations, and Antigua Commercial Bank charter flights, an advisory from the Barbuda Council stated.
Barbuda began carrying out random tests last Thursday using its new Sofia rapid testing machine in response to the number of people reporting “flu-like symptoms”, physician Dr Jeremy Deazle told Observer.
Two of the three people tested showed positive results which were later verified by the Caribbean Public Health Agency using the PCR method, he explained.
The two new cases both show mild symptoms only and are currently in isolation at home, he said. One patient is in their 40s and the other in their 20s. Neither has any travel history and they are not suspected of being in contact with anyone else who has tested positive, Dr Deazle added.
Barbuda Council Secretary Paul Nedd spoke of a feeling of trepidation among local residents in response to the news of increasing cases.
“People want to know what’s happening, what we’re doing and how we’re going to secure their safety,” he said.
“People had begun to relax, to think Covid wasn’t coming here and then it’s here – and now they are panicking.
“Unfortunately Covid has shown its face on our little rock – but it’s here and we have got to deal with it. The Barbuda Council has leapt into action to ensure we have the best safety and security for our people.”
Nedd said the impact of business closures on the isle’s economy had been taken into consideration “but we must put people’s health before all other concerns”.
“We will be assessing how we go forward based on the next week. People must understand the need to practice the necessary protocols in place since March 2020 – mask-wearing, social distancing, hand sanitisation, regular cleaning, and washing of clothes after being out in the public.
“People have to get serious about this Covid thing, because it’s a clear and present danger to us all in Antigua and Barbuda,” Nedd added.
Meanwhile, testing will be stepped up across the sister isle this week with “numerous target and random” tests carried out, the Council statement said.
Both of the island’s government schools are also being thoroughly sanitised as a precautionary measure.
“Should there be any rise in Covid-19 cases, the Barbuda Council will take necessary steps to curtail community spread of the virus,” the statement concluded.