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By Gemma Handy

Residents now have an additional four hours a day in which to carry out business as the nation continues to tentatively ease Covid-related restrictions.

The curfew window has been widened from 5am to 9pm daily as of last night. In addition to being able to exercise earlier in the morning, the extension is in a bid to “encourage as much economic activity as possible”, Information Minister Melford Nicholas told a press conference yesterday.

The relaxing of restraints was tempered by the news that the state of emergency – in place since late March – is set to be prolonged until the end of July when Parliament meets today. The move is to give the government the authority to extend the curfew further in the coming weeks if necessary.

There was good news for beachgoers with the country’s beaches open on weekends as well as weekdays as of this coming Saturday. People are allowed to use them from 5am to 7pm – although “clustering” remains prohibited, along with music, picnicking and food of any kind.

And while churches are free to carry out baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals – provided the maximum 25 attendees keep six feet apart and wear facemasks – social gatherings of all other kinds remain restricted to two people. The exception to the latter is for families.

“In the case where families are traversing or going to the beach or being in a vehicle, that number is not limited provided they live in the same household,” Minister Nicholas explained.

Plans remain in the pipeline to reopen churches for Saturday and Sunday services, with religious leaders told to submit their safety protocols to health chiefs for consideration.

Another announcement in last night’s briefing related specifically to sports with tennis and swimming allowed to commence on Monday, with adherence to social distancing.

Nicholas was asked if guidelines were being developed for bars with a view to their eventual reopening.

The minister conceded that the loss of livelihood for bar owners was a concern.

“But the overriding issue is that the activities bars – and other establishments, even gymnasiums – support are ones that would likely lend themselves well to spreading the virus. And that is what we do not want,” he said.

He advised bar owners to consider the safety measures they could put in place to protect staff and patrons and present them to government.

“We won’t turn our back on a discussion but we do want to approach the matter with trepidation,” he explained, and thus avoid “any situation where we lose control of the virus again”.

Nicholas also touched briefly on crime, in light of an armed robbery at a Parham supermarket last week. He said facemasks should not conceal more than the wearer’s nose and mouth to prevent the extended curfew window being exploited by criminals who disguise themselves to carry out offences.

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