After nearly an entire February in strict lockdown, Barbados is once again embarking on a phased reopening that will allow a number of shops and services to re-open from next Monday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced Thursday.
Ten days after vowing to place health over the economy, Mottley, buoyed by the first-dose vaccination of 14 per cent of the population, signalled her intention to tip the proverbial scale in favour of jobs, businesses and the economy despite her own lingering concern about the prevailing high rate of COVID-19 infections, which has killed four times as many Barbadians since the start of the year than in all of 2020.
The 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew remains in effect, but outdoor commercial activity and a select number of indoor businesses would be allowed to resume operations, the PM said. Saturday has returned to being an “authorized commercial day” but Sunday has been declared a day of rest.
Industries to benefit from the first phase of reopening include construction, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, and auto mechanics, which are primarily conducted outdoors. Hardware, appliance, farming, electrical and plumbing stores will also be allowed to reopen along with administrative offices, businesses offering professional services and critical public service offices operating with a skeleton staff. Fast-food restaurants are to reopen to provide curbside, pickup, drive-thru and delivery service but are to remain closed to in-house dining.
But clothing stores, boutiques, hairdressers, and barbers were among the businesses that would remain closed for at least another two weeks.
Addressing these small business owners Mottley said: “I need you to take the next two weeks to revise your existing protocols and practices and to ready yourself for possible reopening in two weeks, on the condition that you will henceforth follow the strict application of the protocols, as set forth. In the meantime, however, you shall continue to have access to the Government’s subsidization package, as coordinated by the Ministry of Small Business.”
In a sharp deviation from the tone taken in her last address to the nation, Mottley acknowledged that Barbadians had made tremendous sacrifices in the interest of public safety while stressing the lockdown could not remain indefinitely.
“We’re a country where people need to work. We are a country where lack of access to money will cause businesses to close and fall and where jobs will go and where other social issues will rise to the top very fast,” Mottley contended.
“So what do we have to do? We have to measure risks and we have to make decisions accordingly so that people know that when we do so, we are taking them into account and their activities. We want to have safe work for safe people in a safe country as you have heard me say over and over.”
But the Prime Minister did not mince words about parties and social gatherings, which remain off-limits as the dusk-to-dawn curfew is to remain in force.
Declaring that “March 2021 is not a time for partying,” Mottley said: “Let us take control of ourselves. COVID loves parties. It goes wild when it sees a party. Partying of any kind right now is a bad idea. It is silly and it is selfish. Come on… cut it out!
“Let us cease this needless and dangerous practice of sneaking off to a liming spot to party or hang out. The ultimate price we are all paying is way too high.”
Over the last two weeks of lockdown and with a nagging COVID-19 testing backlog finally cleared, the country continues to record high numbers of COVID-19 infections. On Thursday, the total number of active cases stood at 746 as the country recorded another 42 cases of the deadly virus.
In defending the measures, Mottley argued that in spite of the numbers, public health officials believe there is reason for cautious optimism as they study and expand on certain patterns relating to contact tracing.
She said: “The current COVID numbers are higher than we would have hoped for. However, we have done the analysis and we know how it is happening and we have been able to expand on our contact tracing as well… I will not give greater details at this stage because contact tracing is underway and indeed, certain measures have been taken to ring-fence the areas of worry and concern and we can pick up the patterns and we are moving to deal with them.
“I am confident that following the last two weeks of pause and the last weekend of ‘stop’, with the continuation of restrictions, our numbers shall bottom out and begin to decline, but I am also very resolute that if they don’t, I am going to be back here applying brakes.”
The Prime Minister also indicated that strict monitoring of the first phase of reopening would continue with compliance officers strategically stationed across the island.
In an apparent response to some concerns about the state of the public health care service, the PM assured that all persons with COVID-19 will continue to be treated free of charge, ventilators are readily available and no one in need of intubation has been turned down.
“My friends, we believe we will take this country safely through this. Despite our detractors, despite the fake news and false things,” she declared.