By Carl Joseph
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has declared a state of emergency and ordered a mandatory curfew that comes into effect at midnight tomorrow (Saturday).
“We are now moving from Covid mitigation to Covid suppression,” he declared in an address to the nation on Friday.
For the next two weeks, the nightly curfew will be in place from 8pm until 6am. Defence Force and police officers will patrol the streets to ensure compliance.
Violators face a $5,000 fine or six months’ imprisonment.
“More drastic action must be taken to contain the virus,” Browne concluded after his calls for the public to adhere to social gathering and distancing policies appeared to fall on deaf ears.
“We recognise that despite our best efforts to ensure social responsibility, especially with social distancing, that those efforts have not worked very well.
“It means therefore that we cannot depend on the voluntary social distancing of residents and citizens, and therefore we have to move to a system now of mandatory suppression,” the PM said.
He said a number of Antiguans and Barbudans had been behaving in a “very irresponsible way” by congregating in large crowds.
Along with the curfew, the prime minister also ordered that all bars and nightclubs be closed for the two-week period as of 8pm Friday night. Restaurants are encouraged to remain open in order to serve takeaway meals only, to include breakfasts and lunches.
Entertainment spots are also banned from opening for a fortnight. Browne said many clubs and bars had violated the social gathering policy by allowing groups of more than 25 persons.
People working within the essential services sector will be exempt from the curfew. Those include doctors, nurses, hospital orderlies and administrative staff, caregivers, government and statutory body employees, judges, lawyers and support staff, air traffic controllers, police officers, soldiers, clinic staff, elderly care workers and Port Authority employees.
Also deemed essential workers are employees of wholesalers, supermarkets and bakeries – all of which must close in time for staff to be home by 8pm – along with those working in pharmacies, banks, gas stations, tyre repair shops and call centres.
Construction and media staff are also considered essential workers but must maintain social distance.
All non-essential services and businesses are to remain closed. Bus drivers and their passengers must wear masks. Government will provide 10,000 masks to assist but is encouraging people to buy their own too.
Sports clubs and athletic associations must tell members that no more than 25 people are allowed to congregate at any one time, and they must return home by 8pm.
Funerals and weddings shall not exceed the 25-people rule and social distancing shall be practiced.
Antigua and Barbuda’s borders will also be closed to incoming yachts as of tomorrow night.