By Carl Joseph
The government has formalised its edict on public gatherings by issuing a ban on all large events for 30 days with immediate effect as part of its national COVID-19 response.
Festivals Minister, Daryll Matthew, made the announcement at a meeting with promoters at the Multipurpose Cultural Centre in Perry Bay.
While the minister listed events to include fetes, parties, and sporting events, the promoters took issue with the fact the ban did not extend to restaurants and bars.
The explanation given for their exclusion was that they do not attract the very large numbers of people – occasionally upwards of 10,000 revellers – that the party events tend to attract. In addition, the minister explained that restaurants and bars tend to have better facilities in place to accommodate proper hygiene practices.
To illuminate his point, Minister Matthew said, “a bar that may have 30 persons… 40 persons at any one point in time there, they are manned with bathroom facilities that can be regularly kept”.
He argued that the smaller, more contained size of most restaurants and bars meant the latter were better equipped to keep the area sanitary as prescribed by the Ministry of Health.
The minister’s argument did not sit well with promoters, however, who claimed the policy is a double standard.
In attendance at Monday’s meeting was long-time promoter, Neil Cochrane, who said “some of the promoters feel as if they’re being targeted”.
While Cochrane acknowledged that the government has been put in a tough position regarding the need for a drastic response to the pandemic, he said, “we understand that regulations have to be put in place, but it also has to be consistent. If you going to clean the house, clean the whole house”.
Cochrane also said that part of the public panic about the virus is as a result of measures that governments have implemented worldwide.
The promoter made the point that, locally, the risks associated with the possible spread of the virus at restaurants and bars are the same risks attached to hosting a larger party.
“We can control the risks. There are ways and means to fumigate the event and have [sanitising stations] at the entry and throughout the venue,” Cochrane argued.
Promoters and the minister alike appeared to be gearing up for an inordinate downturn for this year’s Carnival and feting season.
Minister Matthew advised the promoters that, “given the [expectation of a] diminished market, whereas the event may have previously attracted four to five thousand people, you have to start to plan with the expectation that you may get half of that.”
According to Cochrane, promoters who have events coming up within the 30-day mandated suspension period will incur significant losses.
“Promotions and events are an extremely big gamble,” Cochrane said.
But the promoter is hopeful that the government reviews the suspension period before the 30-day period is over citing recent advancements in medicine designed to combat the novel coronavirus.
While the first clinical test for a vaccine started in the United States on Monday, international media suggest Cuba may have already developed a medicine able to treat COVID-19.
“So within 30 days, those stories can become a little more clearer and we can have a greater understanding of where [these medical developments] are at,” Cochrane said as he made the case for the resumption of the pre-Carnival feting season.