By Kadeem Joseph
Residents concerned that the steep rise in Covid-19 cases could lead to a second national lockdown may “breathe a sigh of relief” with the government’s assurance that the measure is not being contemplated at this time.
The declaration came from Information Minister Melford Nicholas during Wednesday evening’s post-Cabinet press briefing.
The minister said that the government believes the recent curfew change and other restrictions announced two weeks ago will be enough to give health officials and law enforcement “the opportunity to slow down the rate of infection”.
Antigua and Barbuda has recorded over 200 laboratory confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the start of 2021, dwarfing the 2020 total of 159 cases.
Nicholas also explained that the “knock-on economic effect” of another national shutdown would be “staggering” for some individuals who are still recovering from the economic fallout brought on by the pandemic.
“We have said that shutdown comes with the consequence of economic dislocation; we are aware that a number of individuals are just catching their hands as it were,” he said. “Businesses have not quite opened up at a level where we would want, that would support the re-creation of jobs.”
The administration had previously indicated that a shutdown could be on the cards if there were upwards of three recorded cases per day, over a seven-day period.
However, the information minister said there are already signs that the current restrictions are curtailing some of “the naughty behaviour” that were of concern for the ruling administration.
On January 27, along with an 8pm to 5am curfew, the government announced the closure of all bars, limited restaurants to takeout only service, and reduced attendance at weddings, church services and funerals to 25, among other restrictions.
With the current protocols set to expire on February 19, Nicholas said while another lockdown is off the cards, the government is likely to further extend curfew restrictions come next week.
Nicholas said the administration is also hoping that the planned national vaccination campaign will help to reverse the current trend regarding Covid-19 infections.
Meanwhile, the government has authorised its permanent secretaries to employ measures that would reduce the numbers of workers in offices, such as a rotation system or operating in bubbles – to prevent an entire ministry being affected in the event that a staff member is exposed to the virus.