The changes to Covid-19 regulations may appease some, but leave others waiting their turn
By Orville Williams
The government has again announced several changes to Covid-19 regulations, given the significant reduction in new virus cases and the gradual uptick of vaccinations within the local population.
While some groups of people may still feel aggrieved with the lack of changes where their interests are concerned, many others will no doubt be welcoming the long-awaited ‘freedom’.
Gym operators are among those that will surely be smiling. Their doors were ordered to close again almost three months ago, causing them to suffer – like many others – severe financial fallout.
As of next Monday though, their facilities will be allowed to open, under several conditions.
This week’s post-Cabinet report explained that the Chief Health Inspector or one of her team will be tasked with assessing Antigua’s 20 registered gyms – and that assessment will precede any weights being lifted.
Additionally, gym-goers will be required to make appointments to utilise the facilities, and wear face masks for the duration of their visit. Those visits will be limited to one hour per person and, as usual, frequent sanitising of the machines and other frequently-touched areas will be required.
Observer spoke with the General Manager of Energie gym, Gary Woods, who talked up recent meetings with the Health Ministry on the prospect of re-opening and what they are looking forward to, now that it has become reality.
“It’s great that they’ve allowed us to open again. There are stricter regulations which we understand, [but] they’ve got to look out for the general public’s health above all else.
“Masks are to be worn in the gym now, which we know we’re going to get some complaints from the gym members about, but we are purchasing special exercise masks so that people don’t have to use the single-use masks [to work out], especially doing cardio.”
Woods also commended the health officials for their diligence, after confirming his gym was inspected yesterday afternoon and they “have been given the green light to open on Monday”.
Meanwhile, churches are the other group to have been handed some reprieve in the latest adjustments, with the 25-person cap for regular services removed in favour of last year’s application, where the attendee limit will be determined by the physical capacity of each church to safely allow for six-foot social distancing.
The Cabinet has long called the church community one of the most compliant with the Covid-19 protocols and they reiterated that during the announcement, adding that some church leaders – including the Head of the Ecclesiastical Commission – have indicated they are encouraging their members to get vaccinated.
Now, while the churches and gyms have a reason to be optimistic about the prospects of a return to normalcy, there was no such optimism for those looking forward to changes in the restrictions for bars, social gatherings, funerals and weddings, as well as those hoping the beaches will remain open on upcoming holidays.
Bar operators, like those running the gyms, have long been calling for a reversal of their closure, due to the dire economic situation. They were told amid these changes, however, that those establishments “provide the ideal conditions for the spread of the virus”.
As such, the Cabinet decided that “bars and clubs will remain closed until further review by the Health Ministry and the Cabinet”.
Social gatherings remain limited to five persons and funerals and weddings are still restricted to only 25 persons. According to the Cabinet, this is due to the “intimacy that is practiced historically at these events”.
Funeral attendees were also advised not to loiter at the cemeteries, but to disperse after burials have been completed, and persons who sell drinks outside the cemeteries were told to refrain from doing so, due to the risk of clustering.
The Cabinet said further, beaches will remain closed on the upcoming holidays – Labour Day on May 3 and Whit Monday on May 24 – as people have been observed “flocking to the beaches with coolers and music blaring from cars”.
The risk of those gatherings worsening on holidays was evaluated and, considering the possibility of Covid-19 spread, a holiday beach reprieve was not on the cards.