By Elesha George
The state of emergency has been extended for another three months until March, 31, 2021, Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced in Parliament on Tuesday, December 15.
The resolution means that rights of citizens will be further restricted while the government continues to manage the coronavirus. The extension will allow the government to maintain curfew hours, to utilize tracking bracelets for persons in quarantine and to implement other necessary measures to manage Covid-19.
In making his case for the extension, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that Covid-19 is still a significant existential threat noting that the country is entering its most challenging period during the winter season from December 21, 2020 to March 21, 2021.
Majority of tourists who travel to Antigua originate from the United States which is currently experiencing record spikes in infections.
“It will take about four to six months for the United States to effectively immunize the American people and it means that the next three months in particular – this winter season – will be a very challenging period, not only for Antigua and Barbuda, but for the rest of the Caribbean,” he said.
Browne also spoke of putting systems in place to reduce the number of people in private quarantine to protect the domestic population and to manage known risk of spreading the virus. The government, he said, is considering placing these people in a public quarantine facility and having them pay for their meals.
“We have no control over their behavior at home,” he said. “There is some level of responsibility being placed on the person in quarantine, but we know many individuals have literally violated the private quarantine arrangements and we’re thinking that based on the increased risk, for the next 90 days, that we need to take perhaps a proactive measure to ensure that those individuals who are coming back to live in the communities among relatives who are senior citizens, or individuals who may have certain underlying conditions, to include comorbidities, that those individuals should not be allowed to quarantine privately.”
The prime minister suggested that most domestic cases would have been spread by returning nationals.
“Since we have reopened in June, there has been perhaps only one occasion in which we saw a limited transmission from a tourist to a couple of locals at a small hotel property that did not follow the protocols,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Jamale Pringle credited the low number of Covid-19 infections to people adhering to the protocols and said he does not see the need for the measure and continued to call for the state of emergency to be lifted, questioning whether it was the protocols or the state of emergency that is most effective.
“I don’t see the state of emergency doing anything differently than giving the government the authority to oppress people,” he said.
“In my view, what the government needs to do at this point is to continue to push for the education, not only for our locals, but for the tourists coming so they adhere to the protocols.”
Barbuda MP Trevor Walker, who said he was hoping that the motion would not return before the Parliament, also did not support the extension, telling MPs that the reason for the measure was not justified.
“I don’t accept that any government, whether this or any other government, [is] going to suspend parts of my constitutional rights for a whole year. It cannot be acceptable,” he told parliamentarians.
Walker also believes that the government has not taken into consideration the psychological impact of the pandemic on the lives of people
“I never hear them talking about that. Some people are literally going crazy,” he suggested to the health minister.
In response, Minister of Health Sir Molwyn Joseph said the government will keep doing what works, noting that the low number of Covid-19 cases is as a result of the compounded effort of the state of emergency and the existing protocols.
Allowing the state of emergency to continue until March 31 will mean that Antigua and Barbuda would have been under a state of emergency for an entire year.