Defending his decision to close beaches and parks on New Providence and Grand Bahama for the Independence weekend, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis pleaded with Bahamians and tourists to sacrifice three days to “save” The Bahamas from a second wave of COVID-19.
His comments came as he announced two new cases of COVID-19 on Grand Bahama – the first confirmed cases in the country since June 14 and the first on Grand Bahama since May 5.
“I ask the young people today, I’m only asking you to sacrifice three days for a healthier and better nation,” said Minnis in the House of Assembly.
“I ask the entire nation, tourists included, just three days.”
Minnis added, “Are we not worth three days to save a nation? Be responsible. If you love yourself, if you love your future generation and if you love your [country]. I ask the entire nation, Mr. Speaker, including our visitors, three days.
“That’s all we ask – three days to save this little nation. We just had two additional cases.
“We don’t know where they traveled. We’re investigating them now. Our decisions, Mr. Speaker, are for the protection of Bahamians, the residents and visitors to our shores.”
On Monday, Minnis announced that public beaches and parks will be closed on New Providence and Grand Bahama. His announcement came a week after they reopened.
The announcement was met with public ire, and St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette also questioned the decision.
He told The Nassau Guardian on Tuesday that Minnis owed the Bahamian people a full explanation as to why he made the decision.
The Free National Movement MP, who resigned from Cabinet last year, also suggested that Minnis has become comfortable with making pronouncements without providing an explanation, and said after months of being under lockdown, Bahamians deserve to know why they are being “cooped up” for another holiday weekend.
Symonette addressed the issue again when he spoke in Parliament, several hours after Minnis.
He did not accept Minnis’ explanation on the beach closure.
‘Prevention is better
Minnis yesterday also defended the decision to keep a nightly 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in place, in spite of questions over the effectiveness of the measure.
He said young people don’t party early in the night.
“We believe that during those times, the mass gatherings, parties, etc., it’s the most active times to have them,” he said.
“[We] feel 10 to 5 is the most active period in our setting, and that is demonstrated by Waterloo. That is demonstrated by the restaurants in the east and the restaurants in the west. Young people don’t party at 8 o’clock.”
On July 1, The Bahamas’ borders were fully reopened more than three months after they were closed in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. The reopening came as cases continued to spike in the United States, where the majority of visitors to the country come from.
While the government requires a negative COVID-19 test, taken within seven days of travel, many have said that testing capacity should have been increased before welcoming tourists.
However, Minnis said last month that widespread testing is not necessary because of The Bahamas’ strong contact tracing program.
Yet, the prime minister warned yesterday that prevention is better than cure in combatting the pandemic.
“The reason we must take certain preventative measures, Mr. Speaker, is because we want to avoid problems before they happen and not just react to them,” he said.
“It is always better to prevent as opposed to reacting. When you’re reacting, you’re catching up. You’re more prone to make mistakes.
“[T]hat is why, Mr. Speaker, beaches and parks are to be closed in New Providence, Paradise Island, Grand Bahama and other cays surrounding New Providence over the July 10 holiday weekend.”
Minnis noted that in other countries, beaches and parks have been closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Prevention is better than cure, and during holiday weekends, people tend to have mass gatherings on beaches and parks,” he said.
“I urge my colleagues to review what’s happened around the world with respect to beaches and parks and review the possible outcome of what could happen in terms of the introduction of the virus within those facilities and subsequently throughout communities.”
He added, “Such mass gatherings are where there can be super spreading of COVID-19.”
Minnis also noted that there is a risk posed by Bahamians who traveled to Florida and returned without being tested, as is now allowed by the emergency orders.
“Those individuals who had returned from Florida within 72 hours, I understand about 172 of them walked into the hotspot and came home,” he said.
“I’m not saying they’re infected because we follow protocols and try to adhere as much as possible. But if just one of them should become infected, they can shed the virus.
“…Mr. Speaker, we cannot take this risk.”
He warned against a “meltdown” of the healthcare system.
“It means that you will have no beds for sick patients because your hospital is being used for all COVID patients,” Minnis said.
“It means that all elective cases are canceled and you have difficulty performing even emergency cases. It means, Mr. Speaker, that our routine maternity cases cannot be cared for properly, and babies can be born at home or wherever because our hospital is in meltdown. It also means that our children who need hospitalization for care, there will be no facility for them.
“[We] will be back to the Stone Age.”
He added, “Doctors would then have to make the decision that all 80-year-olds be allowed to die, because you are using the beds for young people. Then you allow the 70-year-olds to die, then the 60s. Those are decisions that physicians would have to make, should we have a meltdown, Mr. Speaker.
“Therefore, it is essential that we make difficult and hard decisions now, so as to save our future.”