By Gemma Handy
Tougher restrictions aimed at stemming “reckless behaviour” of those who flout coronavirus rules could be ahead.
Health chiefs are due to present a slew of recommendations to Cabinet this morning – a day after Health Minister Molwyn Joseph once again urged the public to comply with rules on facemask wearing, social distancing and gatherings.
While the current infection rate may be low – with just one active case up to yesterday – there will undoubtedly be more cases, he told a press conference on Tuesday, and the fight is far from over.
Joseph was tight-lipped on what exactly the policies up for consideration by ministers today might be. But he said “some of them will increase the stringency of the regulations that are already in place,” adding, “If people don’t behave there must be sanctions. We cannot have a few people in this country who spoil things for the majority.”
One only has to look at the grim scenes being played out in Covid-19 hotspots like the US, India and Brazil – as well as closer to home in the Bahamas and St Maarten – to see what happens when the virus becomes unmanageable, he warned.
People who head into public areas without wearing a facemask, hold parties or sporting contests in violation of the rules – along with those who defy self-quarantine regulations – risk triggering a spike and heaping pressure on the local healthcare system, Joseph said.
“Over the last month or so I am seeing a populace that was so compliant in March, April and May who now appear to think by their conduct that this fight against Covid is over, and hence we see more reckless behaviour and people not wearing masks as they were doing then,” he explained.
“We are seeing social distancing not being complied with and people who have been given the privilege of self-quarantine breaking the rules they sign onto, especially citizens of Antigua and Barbuda and some residents as well.
“This is troubling because it is through this conduct that we run the risk of having community spread. Community spread is not something to play with; it’s what we are seeing in the Bahamas, Guyana and Jamaica and even a small country like St Maarten where it’s so rapid they are falling behind with contact tracing.”
Joseph said strain on the healthcare system from an increase in cases would likely be exacerbated by the onset of the flu season, and the threat of dengue fever.
Meanwhile, restricting travel from coronavirus hotspots – which include some of the nation’s primary tourism source markets – is not currently on the cards even as Covid cases continue to soar in the US, UK and parts of Europe.
Joseph said the government was “monitoring” the situation overseas but that “at this point” there were no plans to restrict anyone coming in.
Non-essential travel to places battling high numbers of the virus by people residing in Antigua and Barbuda, however, is discouraged.