With vaccine availability at relative highs and inoculation rates improving, governments across the Caribbean trade bloc are moving to lift or ease COVID-19 emergency restrictions and amend night time curfew limits while asking citizens to behave responsibly as the Christmas holiday season looms.
Guyana, St. Kitts, Trinidad, Barbados, The Bahamas, Antigua, most of the Eastern Caribbean and Suriname have all either lifted states of emergency rules in place since March of last year or have pushed up curfews to midnight to an hour or so before sunrise as they try to slowly inch life back to some semblance of normalcy.
In the past week, the cabinet of Prime Minister Keith Rowley in Trinidad abandoned emergency measures, lifted night time curfews and allowed bars and restaurants to reopen. Bar owners say the new measures have come just as several were about to close permanently under the weight of mounting debts that included facility rentals while receiving no revenues for months.
But even as Rowley brought joy to islanders, Minister of Health, Terry Deyalsingh said the country was now experiencing a third COVID-19 outbreak with infections averaging more than 500 daily and hospital ICU facilities overflowing with patients. The island also broke fatality records last weekend with 48 deaths in two days taking the overall death toll to nearly 2000. The Express newspaper reported that morgues at the Eric Williams Medical Complex are overflowing with Corona patients as authorities appeal to the public to still observe health protocols even as the toughest restrictions have been lifted.
“In this current wave, it is now imperative that even for the vaccinated, that the three Ws also apply. Don’t let your guard down, even if you are vaccinated at this time. Avoid social gatherings as much as humanly possible,”Deyalsingh told the Guardian.
PM Rowley, meanwhile, used a public speaking platform to ask locals to keep infection rates and fatalities down, noting that “we are not out of it but we are, in fact, choosing to fight to survive. All I can say to you tonight on this platform is the most important admonition I can give you, protect yourself from this virus. Get vaccinated.”
Neighboring Guyana, awash with a wide array of available vaccines including Sputnik V from Russia, others from China, the US, England and India has moved curfew times to midnight from 10.30 pm to 4.am as the education ministry prepares to reopen schools in January with rotating attendance days for various classes and grades. Flights between Guyana and Brazil as well as Suriname have resumed, while ferry crossing with Suriname and land travels to Brazil are now being allowed after months.
“We are not going to be able to stay home anymore so shortly this country will resume to full normalcy in the classroom. Before long, sooner rather than later, we are going to go back to full return to the classroom,” Education Minister Priya Manickchand said recently. Officials say they are encouraged by the fact that 51 percent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated but some outlying regions have rates as low as 23 percent. Medical authorities in Trinidad are also reporting a jab rate in excess of 50 percent.
As cabinets reviewed their own situations, CARICOM Chair and Antiguan Prime Minister, Gaston Browne said his government was now allowing bars, restaurants and clubs to reopen to fully vaccinated patrons but the 11 pm curfew remained in effect. Nearby Barbados has pushed up its curfew by three hours to midnight as the country prepares to celebrate 55 years as an independent nation and as it readies itself to dump Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as its head of state and replace her with Afro Governor General Sandra Mason at month end.
“If things get out of hand, we know how to bring it back. The easing of the curfew is no excuse for people to abandon the protocols and to abandon in particular mask wearing, or the other things that are necessary to keep us safe. We also recognize that parallel to what we are doing here, that as I said, we will expand and roll out the safety zones such that persons can feel more comfortable in doing what they have to do,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said.
In the north Caribbean, The Bahamas and Jamaica have taken similar measures with the new Bahamian government doing away with night time curfews while still requiring mask mandates and other health protocols. Jamaica has maintained its 8pm curfew but officials are to review this in mid December while preparing to announce amended measures for the Christmas holidays.