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By Gemma Handy

Residents who defy social gathering rules, fail to wear facemasks and flout other measures intended to curtail coronavirus spread are being blamed for a tightening of curfew hours.

From tonight, the country will be subject to a 6pm to 5am curfew scheduled to last until at least March 15.

Information Minister Melford Nicholas told a press briefing, which followed a special meeting of Cabinet yesterday, that some members of the public were continuing to spurn Covid-related rules. Hours earlier, police announced 10 young people had been ticketed for congregating in a room at the Royal Cove Hotel in Jennings.

The latest dashboard was released last night

The new restrictions taking effect today will also see the number of people allowed to gather at any one time halved from 10 to five.

The latter does not include church services, weddings and funerals which will remain at a maximum of 25 people. Nicholas said churches had been “very cooperative” with the rules, pointing out that many were now holding services online.

Bars and gyms will remain closed for another month, and restaurants limited to take-out service only.

Government has faced increasing calls for a second national shutdown as Covid cases continue to surge. An additional 16 were confirmed last night, taking the number of active cases to 229. Forty-one people are still hospitalised, the latest dashboard from the Ministry of Health revealed.

Antigua and Barbuda has to date officially recorded 443 coronavirus cases – a figure which has almost doubled in the last fortnight. Non-imported cases now far exceed imported ones, at 317 and 126 respectively.

Meanwhile, the state quarantine facility at the Jolly Beach Resort is now operational and has already been receiving travellers, Nicholas said. There are more than 450 rooms available at the resort, plus 31 refurbished rooms at the former US air force base which can also be used for isolation, and another 100 at the Halcyon Cove resort, Nicholas said.

People who test positive for the virus will no longer be allowed to stay at home, regardless of the level of their symptoms. They will be sent to a special wing of the quarantine hotel, while those who live with them may also be required to quarantine at a government facility, Cabinet notes said.

The rollout of vaccines is poised to get underway tomorrow, with frontline healthcare workers the first in line to receive them at Mount St John’s Medical Centre.

The 5,000 AstraZeneca doses received from the government of Dominica last week will be administered initially, with a further 40,000 doses expected to arrive later this month as a gift from India.

Residents will be able to register for vaccinations on a forthcoming online portal.

Minister Nicholas added that all Cabinet ministers had opted to be part of the second phase of vaccinations, in a bid to alleviate public “doubt” and scepticism being expressed over their efficacy and safety.