Restrictions on civil liberties are being eased, but the competent authority’s emergency powers are being extended through the month of July.
Wrapping up the 2020/2021 budget debate in the House of Assembly yesterday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that the nighttime curfew has been reduced by an hour, beaches and parks may open on remaining islands come Monday and gyms may open next Wednesday as the country enters phase five of a phased reopening.
The new curfew, which went into effect last night, is 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“It is only one hour,” the prime minister noted, but added that that is necessary as certain sectors open up.
Businesses may now operate until 8 p.m.
New Providence, Paradise Island, Bimini and Grand Bahama are the only islands where public parks and beaches remain closed. The prime minister indicated that he did not want to open them right away, so decided to allow them to open on June 29.
“If I allowed you all to go today, Jesus Christ, it would’ve been a swarm,” Minnis said. “It would be a mad rush.”
Beach gatherings exceeding five people are prohibited.
“In other words, Mr. Speaker, although the beaches are opened, there will be no beach parties,” the prime minister said.
“You are limited to a certain number so that we can continue our anti-COVID-19 protocol.”
Indoor eating is permitted at restaurants, excluding Arawak Cay; maximum seating will be based on 50 percent occupancy, meaning 30 square feet per person.
Physical distancing and sanitization are to be enforced. Staff will be required to wear masks; customers are required to do the same when leaving and entering a restaurant.
Spas, gyms and outdoor group exercises are permitted to resume operations as of July 1. They must adhere to safety protocols approved by the Ministry of Health.
Funeral services and weddings in churches or religious facilities are permitted to be held with numbers based on the physical distancing protocols established for Saturday or Sunday services.
The graveside services are still limited to 30 people with physical distancing and masks.
Minnis said there is no longer a need to apply to the competent authority for funeral services or weddings.
Social gatherings in private facilities and homes are allowed to be held with no more than 20 people. Physical distancing, sanitization, and mask wearing should be enforced.
As of July 1, taxi services and all bus services are permitted to resume based on guidelines in the Ministry of Tourism’s Bahamas Tourism Readiness & Recovery Plan.
Buses will have to operate at 50 percent occupancy.
“Establishments, taxi and bus owners are to be held responsible for letting mask-less patrons enter their respective establishments and ensuring that occupancy is limited to enable physical distancing,” the prime minister said.
“If the requirements to wear masks and physical distance are not adhered to by patrons because the owner failed to enforce the requirements, a fine is to be applied to the establishment owner. A second violation will lead to a second fine at a higher quantum.
“A third violation will lead to a temporary closing of the facility until health officials can be satisfied that the continued operations of the establishment would not pose a health risk to the community.”
The reopening of more sectors of the Bahamian economy comes as The Bahamas prepares to reopen its borders to visitors after being closed for three months amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said the visitors, citizens and residents will have to provide negative COVID-19 tests for travel to The Bahamas.
Yesterday, the prime minister said an exception will be made for Bahamian citizens and residents who are traveling for 72 hours or less.
He said those individuals may be required to quarantine upon return to The Bahamas.
Minnis reminded that while The Bahamas has seen the rate of new confirmed COVID-19 cases significantly slowed — standing now at 104 — COVID-19 remains a threat in the country.
“As we continue to come out of the lockdown period, let us not allow this new sense of freedom to overcome the discipline that we displayed up to now with regard to social distancing, regular hand washing and mask wearing,” he said.
“We cannot squander the results of the hard work that we undertook as a community. We have seen what we can accomplish when we work together.”
The prime minister further stated: “As the world and The Bahamas reopen their economies, societies and borders, there will inevitably be an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases within and across borders.
“Just as with the other nations of the world, The Bahamas must continue to balance health, economic and social concerns in order to ensure the viability and sustainability of our countries. During our phased and gradual reopening we have repeatedly emphasized the need for everyone to do their part.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. There is no vaccine as yet. The wearing of facial masks is absolutely necessity and has significantly helped to reduce the spread of the virus at home and around the world.”