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AG: Some sectors will have to wait

Law firms will soon be permitted to open half day with limited staff as the government seeks to ensure that justice is not denied, but cosmetologists and others who work in the beauty industry will not be able to reopen on New Providence, Grand Bahama and several other islands until the COVID-19 case curve has been flattened, Attorney General Carl Bethel advised yesterday.

The latest emergency order, which permits retail businesses, gaming houses, restaurants and certain other establishments to operate under certain health protocols, has been met by disappointment among those who must remain closed or must operate under very strict conditions. 

Attorneys are permitted to operate when discharging instructions in existing criminal or urgent civil matters or taking instructions in new criminal or urgent civil matters where this cannot be done by audio-visual means, or acting in connection with the execution of wills subject in all cases to producing identification if requested to do so.

Several attorneys took to social media yesterday to express their displeasure.

“…Come Monday, God’s willing, fast food restaurants can open to the general public and law firms can’t?” asked attorney Christina Galanos in a Facebook post. “So you get to eat greasy food all the day long, but if you get arrested and you need legal advice, dog eat your lunch if you don’t have your lawyer’s cell phone number. Welcome to The Bahamas.”

In response to that same post, former Elizabeth MP Ryan Pinder, also an attorney, responded, “Not only that, a host of businesses will now be in store shopping, yet professional services, which by definition is low density, can’t go to work.”

Another attorney opined that this is the result of electing a doctor, and not an attorney, to run the country.

But the attorney general said the rules are being relaxed for attorneys and that amendment should be out shortly.

Speaking with The Nassau Guardian, Bethel said, “We are going to limit their time to half day, let them bring in two partners and 10 other persons, who can be lawyers or staff. And they can only work from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.”

On the issue of striking a balance between providing people access to legal services while also addressing the worrying level of COVID-19 on New Providence and some other islands, the attorney general said,  “It’s a critical problem. You have this issue of community spread and you can’t wish that way.

“What it means is you have to presume that everybody you come in contact with is potentially COVID positive, period, because you have no way of knowing, so you’re either going to take a chance and with this rate of transmissibility, you are bound to get hit taking chances, so you can’t afford to take a chance.”

While the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, is allowing certain parts of the economy to reopen, bars, spas, beauty salons, barber shops, casinos, gyms and cinemas must remain closed.

Yesterday, some people who work in the beauty industry expressed grave concerns that they are being prevented from reopening. They also worry that their wait to resume business could be protracted as Minnis has given no indication of a reopening date.

Bethel said the beauty industry and gyms and other such businesses where clients are confined indoors present a particular challenge. 

“Salon people are in direct physical contact with people,” he said. “They are rubbing up on them or massaging them. People are breathing, sharing the same air in confined spaces. It’s going to take a little while before we reach that level of comfort. We were at that level of comfort when we only had 100 cases. We opened up. Look where that led us to, 2,000 cases now or thereabouts.”

Asked how people who work in those industries are expected to eat, the attorney general said protecting public health is a critical concern.

“Spas and gyms are not the places to be open in this scenario,” he said. “If they can put all their equipment on the outside, that’s a different matter, but all of these places are inclosed. We know that one of the traits of widespread transmission is enclosed spaces. 

“The larger the number of persons within any enclosed space, the higher the possible rate of transmission. This a novel virus. We don’t know everything about it, but what we’re knowing more and more is that the problem is enclosed spaces and that is the reality, particularly enclosed spaces where you have recirculated air, that’s even worse.”

While the new emergency order permits grocery stores and some other establishments to open with patrons going inside, many businesses are permitted to offer curbside or deliveries only and restaurants may only offer outdoor dining. 

“The basis of all the openings is to try and [have] openings that are in the open,” said Bethel, referencing the focus on establishments that can operate without patrons coming indoors.

“As we get a handle on the community spread, if we see these numbers really start to bend, because they vary and fluctuate wildly now, which is one of the signs of continued spread — because you think you got it down then something that happened two weeks ago suddenly flairs up over there — so until there is a clear bending of this curve we can’t go right back to normal.

“That’s the medical advice. It’s just simply impossible. You would only be laying the seeds for even greater transmission in the community.”

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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