By Orville Williams
Topping the list of adjustments to the end of year holiday season will be two observances of Boxing Day holiday on Saturday 26 and Monday 28 of December.
That confirmation was given during yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing by Cabinet Spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nicholas.
This change is somewhat unprecedented, according to Nicholas, as there is currently no pronouncement in the country’s laws for handling Boxing Day when it falls on a Saturday, as it does this year. As a result, he said the Cabinet made the decision to acknowledge the holiday on both days.
“Boxing Day falls this year on a Saturday and there is a lacuna [gap] in the law – a peculiarity in the sense that had Boxing Day fallen on a Sunday, the law was very specific that the subsequent two days – Monday and Tuesday – would be public holidays.
“However, the law is silent on the whole question of Saturday for Boxing Day and, accordingly, the Cabinet has made a decision, and later this morning, Monday the 28th will be declared a public holiday by the proclamation of the Governor General,” Nicholas said.
Many businesses that are planning to operate on both December 26 and 28 will be affected by the decision, particularly where staff scheduling and ‘holiday pay’ are concerned. Nicholas acknowledged that the change will have some financial effect, but noted that it was necessary to uphold a long-standing tradition.
“It is still in keeping with the law and so there will be a dual observance of Boxing Day on the Saturday and certainly on the Monday. It will mean that there will be a financial impact on businesses who have to be opened on both days, but in keeping with the tradition of ensuring that when one of these public holidays falls on a weekend day, then the following business day in the new week would be allocated for the observance of the holiday.”
Along with the changes to Boxing Day, the minister provided some clarity on the many other changes to the season, which have prompted countless queries from residents, business owners and travellers wishing to plan their actions appropriately.
The government had previously announced that commercial activity in the city would cease at 8pm on Christmas Eve – December 24 – in order to discourage large gatherings amid the continued Covid-19 fight. This position has since been amended and now, the 8pm deadline will be applied to all commercial activity – including bars and restaurants – across the entire island, not just in St John’s.
The only businesses that will be allowed to operate past 8pm and until the 11pm curfew on Christmas Eve, are those deemed “essential” such as pharmacies and service stations. Churches, though, have been allowed an extension past midnight and are advised to end services in time for attendees to get home before 1am. This allowance for the churches will also extend to Old Year’s Night/New Year’s Day services.
A similar extension will be applied for the entire country on New Year’s Eve, with more leeway given to ring in 2021. Bars and restaurants, as well as essential services and other businesses, will be allowed to open past midnight, with that particular ‘curfew’ set at 1am.
“We have noted that persons do, on a secular basis, celebrate the changing of the year as well, and so the curfew conditions for that particular evening have been extended to 1am [on] New Year’s Day. So, persons who would wish to have a celebration – of whatever type – are permitted to be out and celebrate the start of the new year,” Nicholas said.
These curfew changes also accompany an adjustment to the number of people who will be allowed to gather for “private parties”, as the previous 25-person limit has been reduced to 10 people, in a bid to reduce the likelihood of clustering.
As Nicholas further explained, while the authorities will not be hard and fast about the type of people gathering, residents are encouraged to limit gatherings to members of the same household.
The gatherings are also to end on Christmas Eve, before the 11pm curfew.
Meanwhile, the previously announced opening hours for beaches on all the holidays – Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – remain the same, from 5am to 1pm. The Cabinet is said to be considering an extension of those hours, until 3pm.
These changes are only the latest in the ever-evolving picture, due to the sustained threat of Covid-19. With the need for constant adaptation on the part of residents and visitors alike, Nicholas insisted that the police would continue to exercise discretion, while persons are urged to practice restraint, where appropriate, and familiarise themselves with the various changes so they don’t run afoul of the law.