Starting yesterday, Barbados began to loosen the terms and conditions of its current emergency procedures enacted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully we have not had a significant rise in the number of cases over the last couple of weeks, and 46 patients are now out of isolation and on their way to recovery. So Government saw it fit to allow more businesses to open their doors and permit Barbadians to frequent beaches again.
To recap, here is the list of businesses that will be back up and running over the next two weeks: Construction and mining operations; landscaping services (and many have taken the chance to get their properties cleaned up after four weeks of neglect); food and beverages manufacturing and retailing; supermarkets; finance and insurance companies (although some were taking online payments); legal, accounting and other professional services to support businesses; tradesmen such as joiners, upholsterers, welding workshops; automotive stores; electronic stores; retailers of baby products; restaurants for offsite delivery of food only; building supplies; beauty supply stores; health and medicine services; office equipment and supplies; pet services and supplies; safety equipment; and security products and services.
Other businesses include companies and individuals dealing with marine products; tyre shops, wrecker services and emergency personnel for vehicle response only, as needed; distributors; property management services; education suppliers; dry cleaning and laundry services; distribution and printing supplies; and delivery companies.
Did any of us realise just how many businesses were closed over the past month, and how many people would have been either out of work or on a break with a degree of uncertainty about their future over that time? It is certainly welcome news for employers and employees. The new health and safety protocols might have created some challenges for companies in that they might have had to rearrange their lunchrooms and office layouts to respect the social distancing rules, or bring in industrial cleaners on a more frequent basis as opposed to once or twice a week.
By all indications, yesterday morning between 6 and 9 a.m., Barbadians welcomed the opportunity to get a sea bath again, but generally speaking, it is older people who tend to go to the sea at that time, one of the groups more vulnerable to COVID-19. How safe will it be? And when we say “beaches”, do we mean “all bodies of water on the island’s shores” or the ones the National Conservation Commission looks after, with bathroom facilities, lifeguard stations and ranger patrols? And if we remember correctly, rangers and lifeguards are not at work that early unless their shifts will be adjusted.
There are two outstanding matters that no one seems to be addressing. Will schools actually reopen for classes, and what is happening with churches?
While online classes officially began yesterday, what will happen to our children as more businesses open and parents go back out to work, especially in those households where there are no grandparents, other extended family members or neighbours to look after them? Is the Common Entrance Examination still scheduled for June 11? Is the Caribbean Examinations Council still going ahead with written exams in July, or will they follow some of their overseas counterparts and grade students based on their coursework, School-Based Assessments and other work they would have done over the years they were preparing for these exams? And how will this new grading system affect the children’s entry into tertiary level institutions? Indeed, will we have Barbados Scholarship and Exhibition winners this year or will that be put on hold?
The more religious among us state that “fellowship with their brethren” is especially important at this time and the church does have a role to play within the community. Beyond that, they also have overheads in terms of utility bills and building maintenance costs.
We suggest that while they have managed to hold services online via live streaming, with pastors and other participants speaking from their homes, or occasionally from the pulpit, it may be time to reintroduce services with limited numbers based on the size of the congregation or the building they occupy.
For example, “house-based” congregations or those with small buildings should be allowed to hold between 10 and 20 members; slightly bigger facilities between 20 and 40; “medium-sized” churches between 40 and 60; and the biggest churches such as parish churches and those which meet at conference centres no more than 75 people. With these numbers, they should be able to observe the social distancing rules and have the services streamed for those who might not be able to make it.
We are pleased to see this relaxation of the curfew as it will be beneficial to all parties involved, but at the same time, we cannot go overboard with our rediscovered freedom. The experts have said so far we have not had any incidences of community spread, and it will be in our best interest to keep it that way.
So as we go about our business once again, let us bear in mind C
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