Some residents collecting their groceries from a delivery driver on Monday.
~ Residents can only shop in their own area ~
PHILIPSBURG--Government is aiming to reopen supermarkets to the general public as of this Thursday, April 16, but only to allow residents to shop in their respective districts in what Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs referred to as “a staggered approach.”
A ministerial regulation for the reopening is currently being finalised. Jacobs said during a national address on Monday evening that the complete explanation of the ministerial regulation will be given over the next two days (Tuesday and Wednesday), so that residents can understand the guidelines that will be introduced for shopping.
The country will remain in a state of emergency, for the remainder of the two weeks. The state of emergency is set to end on April 19. However, this Friday authorities will be able to ascertain, based on the community outreach being done by the Collective Prevention Services (CPS), how much time is still needed for further testing in the community.
Residents will be required to protect themselves by wearing face masks when shopping in their districts. She said there are many websites where persons can learn to make their own masks at home.
“After Thursday, grocery stores will be open [for residents – Ed.] to continue making use of the essential service called food, but [this will be done] in a structured manner,” Jacobs said as she called for patience as authorities put this plan into motion.
She said the “staggered approach” being used in some countries is a good idea, where persons in a community on special schedule will be able to go out and purchase their essentials. “The aim is still to get in and out of the grocery store and back home in shortest possible time.”
It is not a time for persons to visit those they have not seen in a long time.
“We will still be under a state of emergency, but allowing for shopping to take place in a staggered and orderly manner. This was always part of the plan and we wanted to implement this on Tuesday, but because we were not able to carry out intense research into the community [on the spread of COVID-19], we are asking for your indulgence, patience and love for country to allow us to do it two more days,” she said.
On the issue of the delivery of government’s food packages to the needy, she said the intention is to finalise the delivery of the first 1,500 care packages to persons over the next two days. More packages will be packed today, Tuesday, and by Wednesday volunteers will continue with the delivery to another 1,500 persons. By the time this has been completed, the public will be able to do their shopping at supermarkets in their respective districts.
She said persons with backlogs in orders at supermarkets should get their orders filled, as more grocery stores in the various communities will be open. A lot of assistance has been received from taxi drivers, 19 of whom have gone on board to deliver, as well from as Postal Services St. Maarten (PSS) staffers, FedEx drivers, and GEBE, to assist with deliveries in the communities.
She urged disaster pass holders and frontline workers to shop only at the larger grocery stores, which are continuing deliveries in the interim. “Persons can expect more deliveries to be coming your way in next few days. In smaller communities, the concentration is to serve the community in which you are living. Deliveries will come from the closest grocery store nearest you.”
As it relates to persons who still need to cash cheques, Jacobs plans to provide information on how this will be possible today, Tuesday. She said the number 711 has been overloaded with calls even though, there are 10 operators answering calls. She advised persons with cheques still to be cashed to inform the operator at tel. 711 about this so that it can be scheduled with a bank.
She also advised persons who are repeatedly submitting requests for travel waivers to desist from doing so, as this will not lead to their request being approved.
“The total shutting down of the [country] was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make, but I had to take it seeing the growing number of cases and not understanding why in some communities [the Collective Prevention Services number] 914 was not being used to report persons who were ill,” she said.
She expressed hope that the public will see the lockdown as a blessing in disguise, although they may be uncomfortable and bored at home.
Jacobs said she sees the country reopening by June. “This gives us time to reach our peak and go back downwards to slowly but surely reopen essential services,” she said noting that the faster the number of cases goes down the faster more essential services will be able to reopen.