By Carl Joseph
A critical meeting will be convened next Thursday to decide the fate of the rest of the pre-Carnival feting season amid rising fears of the COVID-19 breaching the shores of Antigua and Barbuda.
“I know there are some countries that have now banned large gatherings in public places, but I don’t believe we are yet at that stage in Antigua and Barbuda. But who knows, by next week, we could be at that stage,” Festivals Minister, Daryll Matthew told OBSERVER media one day after he announced the country’s non-participation in this year’s CARIFTA Games.
Next week’s meeting will include all of the local promoters, along with Ministry of Health officials, to decide the way forward for their anticipated events.
In addition to the looming uncertainty regarding the pre-Carnival fetes, Matthew indicated that there will definitely be a scaled down version of the Carnival activities this year.
The budget for Carnival, which is usually in the region of $5 million, has been mostly funded through taxes collected from tourist arrivals to the country.
Several hoteliers have already reported an abnormal increase in cancellations from key source markets during the past two weeks.
“Declining tourism arrivals will translate into declining revenues. And we are already starting to look at a contingency where we will have to scale back our Carnival celebrations this year, simply because I do not believe that the resources will be there,” Matthew announced earlier on Thursday.
Four months ahead of the nation’s largest festival, the minister suggested splitting the activities in two.
Matthew suggested that the shows geared for the adult crowd could be staged as normal during July and August, while those featuring the younger performers could be delayed until the Independence celebrations in November.
“These are the questions we’re asking now to see how we can scale it back to cut down on the expenditure, simply because, it is already anticipated that with this outbreak continuing [worldwide], we are going to have some difficult months ahead,” he said.
Meantime, party promoters and event coordinators in Jamaica – where two cases of the COVID-19 were confirmed this week — have been told they will have to wait two weeks before receiving permits to host large gatherings, and all permits already issued will be revoked.
Similarly, the US state of California has banned large public gatherings to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further there.
On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that gatherings of more than 250 people should be cancelled.
“Smaller gatherings can proceed if organisers implement six feet of social distancing,” a release from his office stated.
Similar measures have been taken across various states in the US, Sweden and many other European nations this week. Just yesterday, the NBA suspended the rest its regular season. The ban on gatherings in many countries is the first of its kind for those nations and is seen as an unprecedented move, but a necessary one, in the face of the COVID-19 threat.