by Gemma Handy
Parliament is set to convene next week to firm up a precise date for ending the state of emergency, giving residents a clearer idea of what this year’s Christmas festivities will look like a second year into the pandemic.
Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin told Observer yesterday that the next parliamentary session would likely take place on December 2 to determine – among other things – a timeline for the further relaxation of Covid-related rules.
Cabinet announced last week that the state of emergency – in place since March 2020 – would end “before December 27”. But while this would probably leave New Year’s Eve revellers free to party the night away, the rules governing Christmas were left ambiguous.
Most Covid-related restrictions are covered under the Public Health Amendment Act, but the state of emergency has been used since the start of the pandemic to implement constraints such as the national curfew and the closure of entertainment spots.
A government insider told Observer on Monday that it was “very likely” the current December 27 expiry date would be brought forward to allow celebrations to take place relatively unhindered from Christmas Eve.
Meanwhile, at least one hallmark yuletide event is eagerly awaiting confirmation of that. The popular Christmas Day champagne party in Nelson’s Dockyard has been an annual tradition for more than three decades and was once named by the New York Times as one of the five best Christmas events in the world.
Hundreds of people descend on the historic complex each year and the entry fee also collects vital revenue for the dockyard’s upkeep.
Last year, the party was cancelled for the first time in its history amid fears of virus contagion.
Its long-standing organiser Hans Smit told Observer yesterday he would not be arranging the event this year for the same reason.
However, Andy Liburd of the National Parks Authority said there was still a chance it would be staged by the governmental body.
“Because the usual sponsors are not involved doesn’t mean the champagne party will not take place,” he said. “We are finalising everything now; a management meeting will have to take place to ensure all is in order so we can say exactly what we are doing.
“The state of emergency will determine how we will proceed. We also have to make sure funds are available,” Liburd added.
Last year the pandemic also put the brakes on the dockyard’s popular New Year’s Eve fireworks display, restricting the show to Copper and Lumber Store dinner guests only. Plans for this year are also currently under discussion.
Government has slowly eased a variety of rules curbing social behaviour as the new tourist season swings into gear.
Bars and nightclubs were given the green light to reopen to fully vaccinated customers last week after months of forced closures. Mid-October saw restaurants allowed to resume in-house dining for fully jabbed patrons, and excursion companies and pleasure craft are also once again free to operate.
Social gatherings are currently limited to 25 people – a recent increase from the former 10.
Beaches are also open again to the public on national holidays, to the delight of both residents and visitors.
What other seasonal staples – such as the vibrant iron band parades – will take place this year remains to be seen.
The latest dashboard from the Ministry of Health released last night revealed there to be just 27 active Covid cases. To date, 55,430 people have received two doses of a virus shot, putting the twin island nation on a par with the global average.