The Bahamas government Wednesday announced a series of new measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in two islands, including a 24-hour weekend curfew, a doubling of the fines for breaching the protocols, even as it maintained that the international airport will reopen on November 1.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis in a statement to Parliament said that despite efforts in the past to curb the spread of the virus that has killed 102 people so far, New Providence and Abaco continue to record high levels of positive COVID-19 cases.
Latest figures show that the country has 4,632. With New Providence continuing to lead the figures with 3,468, with 157 in Abaco.
Minnis said that the new measures, which comes into effect on Friday will include full, 24-hour weekend curfews for New Providence and Abaco.
“The weekend curfews will begin Friday evenings at 7 o’clock and end Monday mornings at 5 o’clock.
This holiday weekend, there will be a full three-day 24-hour curfew, beginning Friday, the 9th of October at 7 p.m., to 5 a.m. Tuesday, the 13th of October,” Minnis told legislators.
He said during these weekend 24-hour curfews, only essential services, including the uniformed branches, Customs and Immigration Departments, public health services, sanitation services and essential utility services will be permitted to operate.
He said sea and airports will continue to operate and there will be no interruption to flights.
“The only other movement beside essential services will be for one hour of worship services on Saturdays and Sundays between the hours of 7.00 am and 1.00 pm (local time). No food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, construction sites or laundromats will be permitted to operate during the full 24-hour weekend curfews.”
Minnis said that to the extent that this is not already the case, food distribution by the National Food Distribution Task Force will be tailored to take place during weekdays.
He said that no social gatherings will be permitted whatsoever and that this will “be strictly enforced in order to reduce and control the spread of COVID-19.
“There is now a confidential hotline for citizens to report on people hosting social gatherings,” he said, adding that “during the week, religious services may continue based on the Bahamas Christian Council guidelines approved by the Ministry of Health.
“Churches may also open for individual/private prayer during the week. Health officials have advised that the incidents of case data reveal that it is necessary to revert to the prior position regarding funerals,” Minnis told Parliament noting that in the case of funerals, in addition to the officiant and the undertakers, people will be permitted to attend a funeral, which may now only take place at the graveside.
“Regrettably, wakes and repasts will not be permitted. In addition to the officiant, only 10 people will be permitted at a wedding. Wedding receptions will not be permitted. I understand and fully acknowledge that these changes will be difficult for those who were planning for a larger number of individuals at weddings and funerals this weekend coming.”
Minnis said that in order to reduce the movement of residents of New Providence, schools on New Providence and Abaco, may only proceed via virtual means.
“For now, there will be no in-person schooling for students. I also wish to advise that beaches and parks on New Providence and Abaco will once again be closed,” he said, adding that exercises will be permitted in one’s neighbourhood Monday to Friday, between 5.00 am and 7.00 pm.
“Exercise on the weekend may take place only within an individual’s yard. Unfortunately, gyms will once again be closed. I acknowledge that they were only very recently opened. We will try to reopen them as soon as possible,” Minnis said,.
Minnis, a medical practitioner, said that the workplace is a major source of community spread for COVID-19 and that all of those who can work from home should do so.
“We have many reports of individuals in offices not wearing masks and not maintaining physical distancing, proper sanitization and other health measures. Such practices are helping to spread the virus.
“I again make a strong appeal to those businesses that are not complying with health and safety guidelines to do so immediately. It is the right thing to do legally and ethically. Let me again thank the many citizens, residents and businesses, who are consistently following the health and safety guidelines.”
Minnis said that to limit community spread in the public sector, to the greatest extent possible, public officers will be instructed by their permanent secretaries to work from home.
He said Cabinet Ministers in quarantine will work from home during the quarantine period and that restaurants, for the time being, only take-away, curbside and deliveries will be permitted.
“There will be no indoor or outdoor dining on New Providence and Abaco for now. Where take away services are being provided, enforcement monitors will be vigilant to ensure that there is no congregating either indoors or outdoors by patrons.
“All retail will be curbside only except for food stores. For all other retail, customers are not permitted to enter stores. Gas stations are not permitted to provide in-store services.”
Minnis said that as part of the enforcement efforts, “all fines for breaching health protocols, except for the mask violations, will be doubled.
“To encourage compliance with public health protection measures, there will be an amendment to the Emergency Powers Order that causes businesses to be closed for business on their second violation of the Orders. They will be closed for 14 days.”
Minnis warned that of a business or construction site has an infection rate of 10 per cent of the full staff complement, the business or construction site will be closed, and all staff members will be quarantined for the prescribed incubation period of 14 days.
“Consistent with the international guests using these facilities, Bahamians and residents seeking to book at hotels on New Providence and Abaco will be required to have negative COVID-19 RT PCR tests.”.
Minnis said that the measures he has outlined have no effect on air travel, adding “there has been no change to the current travel regime.
“The opening of the international tourism sector remains set for the first of November 2020. Indeed, we are also taking these measures in order to reduce our case numbers in preparation for the broader opening of the tourism sector.”
Minnis said that while the local economy has been hit by the pandemic “just like most of the world, it is going to take a very long time to recover and to work our way back.
“We cannot get our economy and future back on track until we beat this pandemic. The reality is that a massive number of jobs our country depends on are in the tourism sector. Until tourism is back, we are going to continue to face large hurdles.
“We cannot bring tourists back until COVID-19 is on the run. So… I ask every one of our fellow countrymen and women, for the sake of our families; for the sake of our front-line fighters; for the sake of our economy and our country; let us fight for the future by fighting COVID-19 together,” Minnis told Parliament.