Health minister to recommend curfew extension and 8pm closure for bars

Health officials briefed media at yesterday’s press conference
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By Elesha George

[email protected]

The Minister of Health will today ask Cabinet to extend the 11pm to 5am curfew until the end of 2020 – and will recommend earlier closure for bars.

“I’m going to be recommending that the curfew goes to the end of the year,” Molwyn Joseph said during a press conference on Tuesday.

He said that based on the recommendation from Chief Health Inspector, Sharon Martin, he will also discuss with Cabinet an additional measure to close bars at 8pm. Martin said many such businesses have not been complying with Covid-19 regulations and have become difficult to monitor.

Joseph believes the amendments are needed to better manage the spread of the coronavirus as compliance to Covid-19 protocols declines – an unwelcome change which may worsen with an increase in visitor arrivals in the coming months.

He also noted that some people are not taking personal responsibility for ensuring that the virus does not spread, explaining that, “routinely, on weekends, we have people with private parties in their homes with their friends and families, not wearing masks, not practicing social distancing. This is asking for a lot of trouble”.

According to Joseph, the last cluster of positive cases could be traced directly to “the reckless behaviour” of one or more individuals. He said others who became infected as a result of that behaviour appeared not to be complying with mask-wearing and social distancing protocols.

“We must go back to the level of commitment we saw displayed in the months of March and April when it was predicted that people would fall dead in the streets of Antigua and Barbuda,” he said.

“It created fear in the minds of many citizens of this country; they didn’t want to die, they didn’t want to get sick, so they complied. Over the months, there are no deaths, [but] people continue to get sick and it appears that there is an attitude that Covid is almost non-existent in Antigua and Barbuda, and hence we do not have to maintain strong compliance with the protocols and the rules established,” he declared.

Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Rhonda Sealey-Thomas has supported the curfew extension, out of an abundance of caution, because the virus is new and it is not clear how colder temperatures could affect its spread, she noted.

“We saw the first cases in January, February, March, which were like the winter months, colder months; and we saw the countries warming up and we saw a decline. We’re not sure what is going to happen October, November, December when it gets colder. We’re not sure and we have to prepare ourselves,” she said.

The CMO said that, already, countries with colder climates are seeing surges in the number of cases and while it could be that there was a break down in social distancing and physical distancing restrictions, it could also be that the cold conditions are helping to further spread the virus.

 “We don’t want to see a surge in the number of cases in Antigua and Barbuda and I think we need to prepare for that and reinforce the public health measures that will prevent us from possibly having a spike,” Dr Sealey-Thomas said.

To date, 111 people in Antigua – 56 males and 55 females – including three children under the age of 12 — have contracted the virus, according to laboratory confirmed RNA PCR tests.

Since March, 20,000 people have been quarantined, three males have died, and 97 people have recovered from Covid-19, while currently there are 11 active cases.

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 on the sister island, Barbuda, the CMO said on Tuesday.

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