Gov’t adjusts beach restrictions to allow more daily access; tour operators displeased with boating suspension

Beachgoers will no doubt be pleased that the government has pulled back on the planned restriction to the beaches. In fact, many will be on the beaches in time for some of the glorious sunsets, as seen here at Pigeon Point. Tour operators, however, say the two-week suspension of offshore excursions will have a negative economic impact. (Photo courtesy Faye Edwards)
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By Orville Williams

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To the certain delight of thousands of residents and visitors, the government has adjusted its plan to restrict access to beaches across the island, set to come into effect on Monday.

This week’s post-Cabinet report declared that, starting then, the beaches will be closed at 12 pm until 5 am each day, allowing beachgoers just seven hours to swim, sunbathe, and the like.

Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, later disclosed that the idea behind the restricted hours was to prevent clustering and discourage the execution of events that could contribute to the spread of Covid-19.

As expected, many residents immediately hit out at that announcement, questioning the decision to ‘restrict one of the few avenues to relieve stress’ and insisting that ‘the open air at the beaches drastically reduces the opportunity for the virus to spread.’

It is not clear whether the adjustment was in response to the criticism or whether it was a change of heart that stemmed from another source. However, a comment from Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s Facebook account on Thursday read that “[the restriction] has been adjusted to 5 pm daily, except on weekends [when] it remains at 12 pm.

The change was later confirmed by Lionel Hurst, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister.

While some may remain critical of the decision to restrict beach access at all, others will surely welcome the additional five hours, considering the severity of the Covid situation and the fact that – based on the government’s assessment – the beaches could have been closed completely.

Meanwhile, beachgoers are not the only ones to have reacted to the government’s announcement of new measures.

Tour operators have expressed their displeasure with the news that “all pleasure craft fetes, parties and entertainment events and excursions around the coastal waters and offshore islands are suspended immediately until September 29.”

The two-week ban is merely the latest in a series of actions that have been laid against the sub-sector, which has been among the hardest hit since the start of the pandemic.

Many of the operators had been counting on the ‘unusual’ tourist activity during this traditional slow season, to recoup at least some of the losses they have been facing.

However, the government maintains that repeated violations by people using the open water and offshore islands to flout rules and Covid restrictions, had left it with no choice.

Owner of Wadadli Cats, Xavier Ross, told Observer that the suspension has forced the cancellation of several pre-booked tours and also forced him to temporarily lay off his 15 employees.

“I’m [shocked] still. We’ve been limited to 45 people and we follow all the protocols. Every week, I have four to six trips [and] all of them are being canceled,” he said.

Creole Antigua Tours’ Glen Hector, also pointed to the protocols that they have been abiding by, suggesting that the suspension is just a case of the good suffering for the bad.

“I think it’s a Peter paying for Paul situation, I don’t think we did anything to stop us from doing tours, because we have guidelines and protocols to follow,” Hector insisted.

Ross also bemoaned the way the decision was made, while warning that it could have a further negative economic impact.

“The manner in which [the suspension] is being done, it’s very high-handed, shutting businesses down without any communication or dialogue is extremely hurtful.

“It’s going to have repercussions on the economy and we’re not America or England where we have subsidies and the government comes in and helps. Everybody has to generate their own income in this country.”

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