UPDATE: Essential businesses can open daily until 8:00pm from Saturday, total shutdown if social distancing ignored

UPDATE: Essential businesses can open daily until 8:00pm from  Saturday, total shutdown if social distancing ignored

PHILIPSBURG--The establishments that are authorised to be operational according to government’s list of essential businesses are now mandated to close daily at 8:00pm as of Saturday, March 21, Prime Minister and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Chairperson Silveria Jacobs said in a national address on Friday.

  She warned that failure to adhere to social distancing protocols could lead to more stringent measures such as a “total shutdown” and minimum mobility for the population. She made a passionate plea for persons in the community to practise social responsibility by maintaining social-distancing protocols. 

  Emergency Services Function (ESF) 10 is conducting an assessment to determine the frequency of movement and compliancy in terms of social distancing at supermarkets and other public areas. A regulation for social distancing for persons who make use of public transportation, business and public areas will be implemented soon and published for all to know.

  “Let me be very clear and transparent. We are currently unaware of when this crisis will be over. We plan and hope that within two weeks the worst would have subsided. However, that remains to be seen. In the meantime, we are trying to have some form of normalcy and ensure the safety and security of our population,” Jacobs said.

  “This is why social distancing has been implemented and will be enforced. If for whatever reason the recommended social distancing is not being adhered to, EOC will decide to upscale measures, which will lead to a total shutdown and minimum mobility for the population for at least two full weeks,” she warned.

  For social distancing, it is recommended that persons in public places where services are being offered be at least one metre “and possibly two metres” away from other persons.

  “This means that if you come to the Civil Registry Department and inside is properly regulated, while waiting outside to enter you should also maintain a distance of one metre from the other person,” Jacobs said.

  She said she had noticed queues of persons “lined up right up under each other” outside establishments such as banks. She stressed that adhering to social distancing is not for her protection, but for that of each resident, their children and families.

  “When you are in such close contact with others, and then you go home, you are taking contaminants in your house,” she said. “Maintain a one-metre distance between you and other people.” She noted that “you will also be shut down” if this is not followed.

  Public order is being maintained and monitored by ESF 5 – the police. Chief of Police Carl John has informed Jacobs that there have not been any “unnecessary skirmishes” and more patrols will be carried out to ensure that public order is maintained and that minimised movement is upheld.

  Essential government services such as Labour, Social Affairs, the Receiver’s Office, and the Civil Registry Department will be provided with a hotline to be accessible for emergency cases and to schedule appointments.

  “If the proper protocols put in place to protect our civil servants are not adhered to, all public services will then be moved to ‘appointments only’ service to avoid as much as possible contact,” the Prime Minister said, adding that a communique about the changes in hours of operation and how to access government services will be communicated in her next update. Services will continue to be provided until then. 

  “We believe that we are keeping the COVID-19 virus properly contained, but we are relying on you, the people of St. Maarten to do what we have to do: each and every business and service and institution which has been granted the opportunity to be open to maintain the highest level of hygiene for themselves, their clients as well as their staff and to ensure that social distancing is being practiced in and around the establishment,” Jacobs said.

  “I hope to have properly informed everyone about the steps government is taking. Realise that we need you, and [ensure that – Ed.] you are part of the solution [and not] part of the problem.

  “I look forward to hearing continuous good news from each of my ESFs and I thank the ESF coordinators for the contributions they are making for the EOC. I also thank all the ministers in my cabinet as well as parliament who have continuously given great suggestions to improve upon regulations that have been put in place already.”

  In the meantime, businesses that are allowed to be open that are now required to close as of 8:00pm from Saturday are hotels and other types of short-term accommodation; yachting agents and vessels; maintenance and repair of motor vehicles, boats, machinery and equipment; sales of auto parts; construction companies; retailers of building materials, hardware, paints and gas; rental and leasing of heavy machinery and equipment; repair of communication and ICT equipment; food and beverage suppliers (wholesale and retail); bakeries, roadside vendors, and restaurants (for take-out and delivery only); food distribution by charitable organisations; St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC), medical offices/practices; dental clinics; physical therapy practices; White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation; pharmaceutical suppliers and pharmacies; medical labs; veterinary clinics; all paramedical services; Mental Health Foundation; government services; banks and money transfer services; financial and insurance services; postal services; law offices, notaries and accounting firms; kadaster; shipping agents and cargo services; real estate firms; utilities and telecom companies, including retailers of telecoms equipment; employment agencies; suppliers of fuel (ULG, gas oil, diesel, etc.); media outlets; Turning Point Foundation; public transportation services; funeral services (limited groups or in open spaces taking social distancing into consideration); laundromats/dry cleaners; cleaning companies and garbage collection; retailers of computer software and related equipment; retail of newspapers; pet stores; natural health stores; and churches and other worship establishments (social distancing must be adhered to).