By Orville Williams
Residents of Antigua and Barbuda will soon get a clear picture of what a return to normalcy will look like, when the government implements a raft of changes to the existing Covid-19 restrictions over the coming days.
Starting today, beaches, which were previously regulated to just twelve hours access on weekdays and seven on weekends, will now be open to the public from 5 am to 7 pm daily.
A week later, on October 15, the nightly curfew will be adjusted from 8 pm to 5 am, to the new hours 11 pm to 5 am. Additionally, restaurants will be able to return to in-house dining on the same date.
Gyms will be allowed to reopen as well, though strictly for vaccinated operators and patrons only. Patrons will be required to show their vaccination cards – whether the temporary or permanent – to be allowed entry into the gyms, while the facilities will be limited to the capacity established by the Central Board of Health.
Offshore excursions will be permitted again, meaning both pleasure craft and tour operators can make up for lost time. They will still be tasked, however, with ensuring all crew and patrons are vaccinated and adhere to the Covid-19 protocols while on board.
Come next week, a review will be done to determine when and under what conditions bars can be allowed to reopen. Whenever that time is, the rules state that both the operators and the patrons must be fully vaccinated.
Those operators who allow unvaccinated people to patronise their establishments will be subject to a $5,000 fine, while any unvaccinated patrons found to be in violated will be subject to a $1,000 fine.
Those same fines will also be applicable to the gyms.
Churches will be allowed to resume regular worship services at maximum capacity established by the Central Board of Health (CBH), while funerals and weddings that take place in churches will also be allowed the same agreed capacity.
“Feast houses and wakes continue to be limited to the numbers agreed to with the CBH, excluding the officials and technicians,” the post-Cabinet report read.
These changes are coming at a time when more than 43,000 adults and youth (between 12 and 17 years old) have been fully vaccinated, and over 10,000 partially vaccinated.
According to Cabinet Spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nicholas, those rising vaccination figures along with the country’s current epidemiological condition were both contemplated in making the decision to relax the restrictions.
If both of these continue to move in a positive direction over the coming weeks, Nicholas said the economy could bounce back by the end of the year.
“We want to be in a position to have the country fully opened for commerce without regard to these restrictive measures that we’ve had to put in place these last 20 months. So, within 90 days, we believe that we will be in a position to have the economy fully opened.
“Some of the other measures that we’ve put in place, inclusive of having only vaccinated persons enter our [borders] as well as having the necessary PCR test, we will maintain. But the need for the state of emergency and the curfew will become a thing of the past within those 90 days.”