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By Orville Williams

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For many people in Antigua and Barbuda, freedom from the coronavirus pandemic and a return to normalcy will look like businesses reopened and rehiring, no nightly curfew, schools back to normal schedules, and an end to the mandatory wearing of masks.

For others, though, there is another social norm that has been sorely missed and could return in the not-too-distant-future – the staging of live events.

Since the advent of the pandemic, the brakes were halted on those types of large social gatherings, given the propensity for crowding and close interaction among attendees.

The cancellation of carnival last year was a big blow for the thousands of people who were set to participate in the festivities, and for months, promoters and event organisers have had to either sit and twiddle their thumbs, or pivot into areas like digital/online events to satisfy their various audiences.

These adjustments may not be required much longer though, as – according to the government – there could soon be some light at the end of what has been a long, dark, seemingly endless tunnel.

Ahead of the start to second-dose Covid-19 vaccinations, next week, Information Minister Melford Nicholas shared details of the effort that will be made to get the entertainment sector back up and running.

“The Minister for Culture, the Honourable Daryll Matthew, will be meeting in the new week, with the local promoters – those persons who would be promoting the various fetes and that type of social activity – with a view to developing a regime where they can resume staging some of their entertainment events.

“[This], with the restriction that it will certainly be done in a bubble, to allow persons who have been vaccinated to attend these particular events,” Nicholas explained.

Critics may argue that, notwithstanding the fact persons in the entertainment industry deserve to make a living, the return of fetes should not necessarily be high on the government’s agenda, with more important issues to be addressed.

The rebuttal to that, however, could be that a return of live events may just prove part of the flame needed to ignite the battered economy.   

For example, ahead of developers testing an app that assesses Covid-19 vaccination status for event attendance, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that particular tool would be vital to “jumpstart the state’s entertainment-driven economy”.

While Antigua and Barbuda may not boast the allure of New York, including its world renown entertainment industry, the country could truly benefit financially from allowing vaccinated persons to again experience live events on the island.

The US Virgin Islands took the lead in returning to live events last week with the departments of Tourism and Health collaborating to conceptualise a creative “vaccine fete” for 200 fully-vaccinated individuals.

The event was also meant to promote a “Vaccinate to Party Safe” initiative, toward Governor Albert Bryan Jr’s goal of vaccinating 50,000 citizens by July 1st

Residents of Antigua and Barbuda have long been itching to ‘get on bad in a fete’ and visitors are gearing up to start coming to the island in droves, with the return of cruise tourism and increased incoming flights. Properly-executed events, then, could mean more money being injected into the economy, along with more opportunities for employment.

The ‘sign-off’ on the return of these events cannot come soon enough for many people, but Nicholas sought to temper expectations a bit, saying there is still much left to discuss.

“It is not yet cast in stone, but the framework is going to be discussed because we do want everyone to have an incentive in the future, where we are all protected and our lives can return to a degree of normalcy,” he said.

According to the Minister, the Ministry of Health is set to roll out the second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine next week for residents who have already received a first dose. That will be crucial in increasing the efficacy of the vaccines, to provide individuals and the wider population with increased protection.

Along with the peace of mind that will come from being fully vaccinated, the anticipation of being able to go to a fete in the near future should serve as an added incentive for those who are scheduled for a second dose, or those who have not been vaccinated at all.

If all goes as anticipated, vaccination cards may end up being as valuable to countless residents and visitors as freedom is to a caged bird.