By Carlena Knight
With news breaking on Thursday morning that the state of emergency would be lifted before December 27, many people welcomed the announcement but several began to question the motives behind the decision.
The main opposition party, the United Progressive Party (UPP), was one such entity that publicly voiced its concern over the state of emergency, which has been in place since last year. The party has called numerous times for it to be removed but with this latest announcement the UPP is now accusing the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) government of playing politics.
In a press release yesterday afternoon, the UPP noted that “like all citizens and residents, the party welcomes this news, but considers it long overdue. Like most citizens and residents, the UPP also views it as a political move –and not an economic or heath-related decision – by the Gaston Browne administration”.
The release said on numerous occasions the PM has hinted of an early election and claimed “lifting the state of emergency will allow him and his colleagues the freedom to campaign at a time when some voters might be persuaded that things are looking up”.
It added that the UPP has always been of the belief that Covid-19 protocols could have been achieved solely under the Public Health Act.
Cabinet confirmed on Thursday that whether or not herd immunity is achieved by then, the state of emergency will be lifted before the year ends.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas made the revelation at the post-Cabinet press briefing.
“Yes, we would intend to reopen the economy fully,” Nicholas said.
He warned that like in other countries where there are some limitations for unvaccinated people, this will more than likely be the case in Antigua and Barbuda even after the state of emergency is lifted.
“While we have not announced any particular policy in that respect, it is clear that you can deduce if the economy is going to be opened up, if the places of entertainment are going to be opened up for persons who are fully vaccinated, then those persons who remain unvaccinated are going to have a smaller space in which to play and operate in,” he said.
“We are going to be certainly using certain other methods of persuasion to encourage them to become vaccinated but the requirement to open up the country in the new year, during the state of emergency at the end of this year, it’s pretty much hardwired at this stage,” Nicholas explained.
Yesterday’s Cabinet notes disclosed that the state of emergency would end before December 27.
In order for it to be lifted before its December 29 expiration date, Parliament must be convened and the motion passed.
An exact timeline for when that will occur, Nicholas said, has not yet been determined.
“So, in order to terminate it before the scheduled termination, we are going to have to go back to Parliament — and I believe we will do so within the next two weeks — and make that matter an act of Parliament to bring the state of emergency to an end,” Nicholas declared.
However, there is still no indication on when protocols such as mask-wearing and social distancing will be removed.
“Mask-wearing is still going to be with us in the new year, sanitisation obviously, and of course social distancing as well. It is going to be with us and, of course, the requirement for all who are eligible to become vaccinated as well,” Nicholas mentioned.
“We have not given consent for us to have fetes and it is in all likelihood that when fetes are allowed to return, it is going to be restricted to persons who are fully vaccinated,” he added.
The state of emergency was first declared in March last year, two weeks after the country recorded its first Covid-19 infection, and has been extended every three months since.
It allows the government to take certain actions, including the implementation of the nightly curfews, the mobilisation of law enforcement on a large scale, and the temporary closure of beaches.
On every occasion, the move has been met with criticism, mainly from the UPP and some members of the general public.