By Gemma Handy
Lockdown hours have been cut in half with restaurants among those allowed to operate as of today – albeit only for pick-ups and deliveries.
As of Thursday morning, residents are only required to be at home from 6pm to 6am until the curfew is reviewed again in three weeks.
“Creeping economic hardship” was cited as the reason for allowing more businesses to reopen.
Government chiefs were quick to warn Antigua and Barbuda is “not out of the woods” with regards to the coronavirus spread.
“But we are satisfied that we are not seeing the type of increase to warrant as tight restrictions,” Information Minister Melford Nicholas told a press briefing last night.
He said Cabinet believed the public had “by and large responded and adapted to” social distancing protocols.
The mandatory wearing of face masks in public places will continue. Neither will there be any relaxation of the ban on using beaches – a restraint likely to cause dismay for many.
Social gatherings of more than two people also remain prohibited.
Supermarkets, insurance companies, wholesale outlets, food markets, construction firms and critical cleaning services are among those now able to operate for a full business day.
Loosening the constraints will ensure a “degree of economic activity to keep us sustained”, Nicholas explained.
Banks are also “considered necessary for the continuance of commerce,” he continued.
But moves to encourage them to open on a full weekday basis had previously met with some resistance, the minister said.
Cabinet intends to ask banks and money transfer outlets to reopen five days a week as of Monday.
People wishing to exercise can also breathe a further sigh of relief. They too can now do so on public roads and open spaces, with the exception of beaches, for the full 12-hour window.
Church services will continue to be online for now but religious establishments may conduct outreach programmes, such as soup kitchens and the distribution of food and care packages, between 6am and 6pm.
Bars and nightclubs will remain closed, along with barber shops, spas and beauty salons.
Retail businesses will also stay locked down for another week, with a review to take place next Wednesday.
A reopening date for schools is still to be announced and will be done in sync with the ministries of health and education.
And while restaurants will be open again for business, patrons are barred from dining on the premises.
“Staff and customers who collect food are to obey the social distancing rules – as far as possible – and all hygiene practices already established are to be obeyed. Frequent handwashing is emphasised,” Cabinet notes urged.
“As of 6pm we expect the streets to be cleared and all other activities to cease. People are expected to retreat to their homes and stay there until the next business day starts at 6am,” Minister Nicholas warned.
He added that any spike in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases would see a return to more stringent rules.
The total number of confirmed cases in the country still stands at 24. The latest case was announced on Tuesday and is known to be an instance of community spread. To date, three people are recorded as having died from the virus and 10 are said to have recovered.
There are 37 people currently in home quarantine – 24 of them in Antigua and 13 in Barbuda. There are just two left in quarantine at the Hawksbill resort. However, that number is likely to increase today when around 60 students are flown home from Jamaica by LIAT charter.
They are expected to spend 14 days at the hotel before being allowed to join their families.
A total of 95 people in the country have been tested for the coronavirus since the outbreak began.
Samples have been sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad for analysis from the outset but local testing is set to commence this week.