By Latrishka Thomas
The further spread of Covid-19 and an increase in mental health issues are just two of the concerns put forward by residents upon hearing that new restrictions will come into effect on Monday.
As of September 20, and for the next two weeks thereafter, beaches will be closed from 12pm to 5am each day, social gatherings will be limited to members of the same household, while pleasure craft excursions, parties and entertainment events are suspended until September 29.
One social media user expressed her dismay saying, “Mental health wellbeing is being withdrawn to people on an island! Whoever made this decision clearly doesn’t go to the beach to understand its natural benefits. The beach space is large enough for social distancing. The country gone mad!”
Another woman asked, “What madness that? You know the beach gives people a sense of relief and a bit of normalcy [and it] also helps fight flu and Covid.”
A man was of the view that the beach restriction will force larger numbers to gather on the beach simultaneously during the hours they’re open.
He asked, “So doing this, won’t this force more people at the beach at the same time?? What the heck does closing the beaches early really do for us Mr Gaston Browne?”
Minister of Information Melford Nicholas explained the reason behind the restriction, essentially purporting that the innocent will have to suffer for the guilty.
“We have intelligence and good feedback that there have been a number of persons who have organised beach parties on the weekends and we know of some southern beaches where that has taken place,” he said.
“The Coast Guard has indicated that they had to stop two vessels over the last week and there were more than 70 persons on each of the boats having unmasked freedom and fun,” he added.
As a result, boating will be prohibited entirely until the end of September and “recertification and reauthorisation will take place beyond that period”.
“We are aware as well that there have been a number of pleasure crafts including jet skis and other small boats who take to the marine environment and go to the offshore islands for parties. Those too have been discontinued,” Nicholas added.
Exempted from this regulation are fishing boats and those used for transportation, such as ferries to Barbuda.
He said that while they encourage users of such boats to get vaccinated “there is no restriction on their trade”. However, they are required to obtain curfew passes from the National Office of Disaster Services.
As it relates to bars, the minister said that a number of bars have found a loophole in order to keep their doors open.
“We have had a detailed discussion with the police,” he said. “I know that there have been a number of persons on social media [talking] about persons finding a way of violating the restriction on the opening of bars …a number of areas in Martins Village, in St Johnstons Village and Friars Hill Road have been the subject of our discussion with the police force and we expect to see some greater degree of surveillance and enforcement in those particular areas, just to name a few.”
Because of these violations, the next two weeks will see limited beach going hours and family gatherings only.
In fact, Nicholas said that the government expects “greater surveillance at the beaches and this goes for everyone, tourists and locals alike”.
The minister also disclosed that discussions took place at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting regarding the emotional impact that the restrictions may have on the public.
He said the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Services would “work along with other professionals in the market to determine if we can bring a network of persons together and provide some kind of contact information. So, we will expect in the next coming days that there will be some pronouncement in the next couple of days to be able to provide this net”.