Honouring Sundays guiding emergency rules: N.E.O.C.
State of emergency restrictions to protect the country from the COVID-19 pandemic are also partly about “honouring” Sundays, the National Emergency Centre (N.E.O.C.) said while announcing relaxations to the regulations on Monday.
Speaking after a press conference, the Centre’s Interim Chair, Aagafili Shem Leo, discussed newly announced relaxations to the restrictions including extensions to business operating hours. But he said a degree of restriction would remain Sundays in response to requests from the National Council of Churches.
Agafili said the changes to the regulations would be welcome news, but that the Cabinet would uphold rules to honour the Sabbath.
“The National Council of Churches has sought audience many times with the Prime Minister and Cabinet and expressed their view from the biblical side of things, to respect Sundays,” he said.
Under new rules announced on Monday, supermarkets will be able to open their doors until 10pm. Restaurants and nightclubs may open until 11pm (from Monday to Saturday).
Markets will also be afforded an extra hour of trading, allowing them to open until 7pm. Nightclubs will be permitted to stay open until 11pm.
Existing prohibitions on swimming at beaches and rivers or opening businesses (except for restaurants and hotels, pharmacies and petrol stations) on Sundays will remain.
Asked why the Government is imposing set trading restrictions on business instead of allowing them to decide their own closing times, Agafili said the rules were to keep Samoa safe.
“It’s really up to the business but the closing has to be 10pm,” he said.
“There is a big picture of these things and that is looking at making sure the country is safe.
“Nightclubs could be [open] up to 6am in the morning, especially during Christmas and the New Year, but Cabinet looked at it through the lens of security for the public, and for people to have a very good Christmas because not everyone drinks.
“10 o’clock, 11 o’clock is preferable in the view of the Cabinet; it is preferable especially during these times.
N.E.O.C. is keeping Samoa at Level 1 on its alert system for the COVID-19 pandemic despite there being no confirmed cases of contagious cases within the country’s borders.
“We will reconsider that position when it’s appropriate,” he told the Samoa Observer.
“All these restrictions were made to ensure the country is safe from COVID-19 and that still remains.
“We get medical advice from Leausa, [but] I cannot comment on his behalf],” he said, referring to the Director-General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri.
Agafili said that because cargo and fishing ships continue to come in and out of Samoa the country needs to remain on alert should it identify a case of COVID-19.
The ships are subject to rules regulating their entry to Samoan waters, including the requirement that those onboard return negative COVID-19 tests before they can arrive in Samoa.
Repatriation flights into the flights have been paused over the end-of-year period.
The last group of passengers to have arrived in the country on a repatriation flight will be tested on Monday and Tuesday and released, depending on their results.
The next incoming repatriation flight is scheduled for next month on 22 January.
The flight is designated for sailors who have been stranded overseas for most of this year.
A total of ten amendments to the state of emergency orders are effective immediately.
They will be reviewed on 4 January.
A recently passed extension to the state of emergency remains in place until 17 January. The restrictions were first declared in March this year.
Hours for supermarkets are now 6am to 10pm on Mondays through Saturdays. On Sundays their hours will be from 3pm to 10 pm.
The markets at Fugalei, Vaitele, Salelologa, Afega and Taufusi have been given one extra hour to operate and will open from 6am to 7pm.
Restaurants and hotel restaurants are allowed to open at 6am until 11pm on all days except Sundays.
On Sundays, dining in and orders to-go will be permitted from 3pm to 10pm.
Hours for petrol stations have also been changed to allow for the sale of fuel on Sunday from 3pm to 10pm.
Limits on the number of people allowed to gather for a single function have been removed but the Government advises that caution be exercised to ensure public safety.
A limit on the number of people who gather for Sunday toanai (lunch) has been removed.
Bingo games are now allowed Monday through Saturday, from 6am to 11pm.
Pharmacies have been given the green light to open on Sundays, from 3pm to 10pm.
Nightclubs have been given new hours as well: from 6am to 11pm Monday through Saturday.