By Theresa Goodwin
Residents who, for almost two years, have been forced to adhere to a number of restrictions imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19, are welcoming the news that the state of emergency (SOE) will end on December 23.
The removal of the SOE will bring an end to the current 11pm to 5am curfew, which has also been adjusted over time depending on the number of active Covid-19 cases.
Other safety measures such as the wearing of facemasks, proper hand hygiene and social distancing will however remain in effect, especially for the busy Christmas season ahead. Social gatherings will also remain restricted to 25 people.
“It’s about time,” remarked one contractor who told Observer that he sometimes has to work late or throughout the night to complete projects. “If you’re going to put the curfew at 11pm, it’s already late. The only people you are keeping back is the bars and club owners and others.”
On the other hand, the reaction from a well-known volunteer was “it’s neither here nor there for me; I am not someone who stays out late, so it does not bother me”.
One woman said that it “feels good; it gives people who like to go out more time, businesses will get to flourish”.
A cinema supervisor and a mechanic also welcomed the removal of the SOE which they shared had affected their livelihoods in a personal way.
Meanwhile, the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) is also welcoming the move. For months the party had insisted that amendments to the Public Health Act were sufficient to keep the spread of the virus under control and that the SOE was unnecessary.
The party’s Chairman D Gisele Isaac said the axing of the SOE proved that the UPP was right all along.
She also said she is hoping that the necessary measures will be in place to properly monitor what happens going forward, noting that returning nationals were blamed for the spike in cases that came right after the end of the extended holiday period last year.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas told the media yesterday that parliament will convene next Thursday to formalise the process to end the emergency period. The current SOE was scheduled to come to an end on December 27.
“We are determined to bring it forward by a few days to ensure the maximum amount of benefit of removing the curfew and the state of emergency for people who may want to make the best of this year’s Christmas celebration.
“So, the state of emergency will come to an end at midnight on December 22nd; should there be a spike in Covid infections, we may be obliged to take some other steps in the new year,” he said.
Another change to take place from December 15 is the imposition of a policy requiring all passengers travelling to Antigua and Barbuda, including returning nationals, to be fully vaccinated in order to enter the country.
They will also be required to present a negative rapid antigen test or PCR test, taken within four days of travel. Considerations will be made for people with exemptions.
Prior to this announcement returning nationals with at least one dose of an approved Covid-19 vaccine were allowed entry.
Nicholas explained yesterday that the “extra layer of precaution is for an abbreviated period” in order to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases during the yuletide season, as was the case in 2020.
As it relates to the Christmas period, government officials have advised that there should be no clustering, no consumption of liquor, no music or picnicking at the beaches.
Family members who will be having gatherings will also be required to observe the 25-person limit for social gatherings and take the necessary precautions when socialising with people who are not from the same household.