by Gemma Handy
Government is set to discuss the possibility of lifting restrictions currently in place on restaurants, bars and gyms when Cabinet ministers meet today.
The latest round of forced closures levied on bars and gyms, and limiting eateries to take-out service only, came into effect a month ago causing dismay for many business owners who have been struggling to stay afloat amid the pandemic.
The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Lionel Hurst hinted during last week’s post-Cabinet media briefing that restaurants may be allowed to resume in-house dining on October 1.
Yesterday he told Observer that curbs on all entertainment spots and gyms were likely to be reviewed when ministers convene again today.
“I am of the view that the green light will be given but all staff and customers are to be vaccinated,” Hurst said.
“We will see. It’s difficult to say as Cabinet discussions can be dynamic. But we want people to be able to go back to work. Lots of people are employed by restaurants; we want them to have an income and they can’t do that if they’re not working.
“We also want tourists to be able to taste our cuisine. And many Antiguans rely on restaurants for sustenance,” he continued.
The national 8pm to 5am curfew will also come under discussion at today’s meeting, Hurst added.
A number of countries across the world now require customers to be jabbed against the coronavirus to access various entertainment spots and certain modes of public transport. While similar measures were already in place for many local businesses, government has repeatedly claimed they were not being adhered to.
The latest closures came into effect on August 27 when the country had just over 200 active Covid cases. With that number currently at almost 1,000 it remains to be seen if government will deem it safe to relax the rules.
A petition launched late last month demanding restrictions be eased for fully vaccinated patrons and compliant businesses garnered more than 300 signatures. It also called for jabbed residents to be beholden to the former 11pm curfew, and suggested limits on the number of people allowed entry into various venues to curtail virus spread, rather than halting operations entirely.
The petition was backed by several business owners including General Manager of Energie Gym, Gary Wood, who said it was “only reasonable” for there to be stricter curbs on unvaccinated people.
Alex Grimley, owner of Sheer Rocks and Catherine’s Café restaurants – which together employ dozens of workers – also endorsed the petition, saying it was unfair for unjabbed people to demand equal benefits when they pose a greater risk to themselves and others.
Meanwhile, the country is two days away from the implementation of stringent new rules aimed at incoming travellers. From October 1, everyone aged 18 and over entering Antigua and Barbuda must show proof of at least partial vaccination against Covid.
In addition, travellers must present a negative PCR test taken within four days of their arrival. Children under five are exempt.
All frontline tourism workers, along with public sector employees, are also required to be vaccinated as of this Friday if they are to keep their jobs.
Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez said yesterday the new rules would help keep both visitors and local residents safe, while ensuring the viability of the nation’s mainstay.
“Putting the current temporary restrictions into place now while our visitor numbers are at the lowest in the year, allows us to be ready for our main tourism season,” Fernandez added.