The Bahamas government says it will soon outline new measures aimed at reviving the economy in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic even as it announced a relaxation of the lockdown measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, particularly in New Providence.
“We are all living through the worst economic crisis in more than 70 years. I will give a major national address with emphasis on the economy in short order. We are working on a revised detailed phased plan to boost jobs and economic growth domestically, even as we plan for the reopening of our vital tourism sector, which is dependent on conditions at home and abroad,” Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said during a news conference on Monday night.
He said reminded that early in the pandemic he had established an Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) and that it is providing the government with advice and recommendations to position the country to emerge from the economic crisis, as rapidly as possible.
Minnis said that the ERC will deliver its full report in September as planned and that even as it is working to do so “it has provided to my office several interim recommendations and considerations to help focus on the immediate situation.
“It is essential to reopen the domestic economy as soon as possible, with the reopening of the external economy to follow as soon as feasible given the economic conditions overseas. We are seeking to ensure that reopening is subject to established COVID-19 protocols.”
Minnis said that the government agencies and private sector stakeholders must commit to greater adherence and compliance to established safety standards.
“Based on the ERC’s recommendations, we are preparing a strategy to approve all pending viable private sector and construction projects that are currently under consideration, and to fast track those approvals.
The approval and execution of these projects will generate immediate employment and business opportunities for Bahamian contractors and trade professionals.”
Minnis said that his administration is accelerating the execution of the budgeted public infrastructure and construction projects, and will pay special attention to the smaller scale projects that benefit multiple smaller contractors.
“This will allow for increased employment in many vulnerable segments of the economy and benefit a number of Bahamian small firms,” he said, adding that the government is also looking at ways to provide special support for the creative community, and further support for Bahamian small businesses and entrepreneurs to provide them with the resources and expertise to be able to showcase and deliver their products to the world.
“As with every other country, there will be no quick fix to this grave global economic situation. But provided we all are prepared to move out of our collective comfort zone and undo the constraints that have too often defined us for decades, we can and we will shape a future Bahamian economy that is more dynamic, more resilient, more sustainable and most of all, more inclusive.”
He said street vendors play an important role in the local economy and his government will be offering a way for enterprising Bahamians to be able to sell their products on the streets of their respective islands, and to be able to do so in a safe and sustained manner.
“The government will review the current licensing and regulatory procedures for street vendors. Our intention is to enable street vendors to be able to sell their products in safe and secure venues.
“We will make available additional funding to the Small Business Development Center for business loans or grants for these street vendors that will allow them to adjust to the current circumstances and to support their business start-ups or expansion.”
Minnis said that it was also imperative for the country to get its vital tourism sector up and running, as safely and as rapidly as possible.
“Thus far, there is no other economic sector as prepared to deliver the range of employment and the depth of tax revenues with great immediacy, like tourism,” Minnis said, adding “our task now is to restore our confidence in ourselves by shutting down community spread and flattening the COVID-19 curve of transmissions and infections once again, over the next several weeks”.
In his broadcast, Minnis offered condolence to the family of Bernadette Rolle, a registered nurse at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC), who died after testing positive for the virus.
“We mourn the loss of a brave warrior from the frontline in our fight against the pandemic COVID-19. The nation is grateful for her service and for all of those on the frontlines of this battle.Nurse Rolle was dedicated to her family, to her patients, and to the institutions of nursing and the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, Minnis said, telling the population to also remember in their prayers, the Opposition Leader Phillip Davis and other legislators and government officials hospitalised as a result of the virus.
Minnis, who said he has since tested negative for the virus, said that his administration’s plan from the start of the pandemic was to utilize a range of public health tools to get the highly contagious COVID-19 virus under sufficient control in order to gradually re-open our economy and society, and to return to some level of growth and normalcy.
“In the past few weeks we have been fighting our second wave of the global pandemic,” he said, noting that changes have been made to the Emergency Orders for Grand Bahama and various Family Islands that take effect from Tuesday.
“I am happy to tell you that the health team sees positive trends developing regarding the situation in New Providence. At this time a hard lockdown is no longer recommended for New Providence,” Minnis said, warning however “that if the data points to the need for other restrictions in the future to address community spread, such restrictions will be put in place.
“There is still no vaccine for this virus,” he said, adding that the very latest data has led to new measures being put in place here.
“To continue to slow the current spread of the virus on New Providence, the current provisions that are in place will remain in place until 5.00 am (local time) Monday 31st August In order to give business owners time to put the necessary measures in place, and to be able to properly plan your activities, please note that effective 5.00 am, Monday, 31st August 2020, many businesses on New Providence will be able to resume normal activity with appropriate physical distancing measures
“We will continue to monitor and analyse the data during the course of the coming week. If the data points to it we will announce the relaxation of some other measures. We are committed to a measured phased re-opening of the economy and society, based on specific health metrics,” Minnis said, adding that “it is hoped that this will aid the public, to gauge when there may be more relaxed or more restrictive measures.