While declaring The Bahamas is facing a major threat, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis last night announced that Doctors Hospital on Blake Road will be used to quarantine COVID-19 patients, all schools will be closed until next month and the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe will be added to the government’s restricted travel list.
Patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be treated at the medical facility.
“Those treating patients will utilize various protocols to protect themselves,” said Minnis in a national address, hours after it was revealed that The Bahamas has confirmed its first case of a disease that has swept the globe, challenging health resources and inducing panic.
“This facility will be secured by our own defense force officers. No visitors will be allowed into the facility unless authorized. We are securing another facility for quarantine purposes.”
He added, “I have instructed every government ministry and agency to be in full preparedness mode. This is our greatest national priority.”
Minnis said the government will be “strong, confident and vigorous” in its national response.
“As prime minister and as a medical doctor, the health, safety and well-being of the Bahamian people are my greatest priority,” he said.
Minnis said schools will close as of today.
He said they will reopen Tuesday, April 14, noting that the minister of education will provide further information in a communication to Parliament on Wednesday.
“Out of an abundance of caution, all national sporting events will be postponed until further notice,” the prime minister said.
“There is an indefinite suspension of all permits for use of public open spaces.”
At a 1 p.m. press conference at the Ministry of Health, Acting Health Minister Jeffrey Lloyd revealed the first confirmed case of COVID-19. The patient is a 61-year-old New Providence resident who had not traveled outside The Bahamas in the past 20 days.
New Providence residents bombarded grocery stores on the island following that confirmation and ahead of it.
While noting that “this crisis is deeply worrying”, the prime minister said that “out of control fear will not help in this time of crisis”.
“There will be adequate food at food stores,” Minnis assured.
“There is no need for panic buying. We are also going to enhance national security measures in order to maintain [the] necessary law and order.”
Minnis said the Ministry of Health has activated its national preparedness and response plan.
“We have conducted training for healthcare providers on proper screening, use of protective equipment and COVID-19 protocols, and secured adequate supplies of hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies and protective equipment,” he said.
“There is in-country testing for COVID-19 at the National Reference Laboratory.”
On March 7, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Italy, Iran and South Korea had been added to the government’s travel ban amid the global spread of COVID-19. The three countries have seen thousands of cases of the virus since its outbreak in Wuhan, China, in late December.
Minnis last night extended that list.
“Given the growing public health concern and to protect the health and well-being of the population of The Bahamas, effective Thursday, March 19, the following travel restrictions will be introduced: foreign nationals and foreign individuals who have traveled within the last 20 days from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe, will be prohibited entry into The Bahamas,” he said.
The prime minister said the restricted travel list will be “continuously monitored and updated as necessary”.
Minnis told Bahamians that all citizens and residents returning home through any point of entry from any of the restricted countries or “an area where community infection and spread is present” will be quarantined or be placed under self-isolation upon arrival.
He said those individuals will be expected to follow the protocols of the Ministry of Health.
He also advised Bahamian residents and citizens who have traveled abroad and believe that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, to contact the ministry’s COVID-19 hotline or a local health provider.
“Non-essential travel by Bahamian nationals and residents and other countries is highly discouraged,” Minnis said.
“Let me repeat this: if you do not need to travel overseas at this time, I highly urge you to remain at home.”
The prime minister forecasted that “this crisis will have a tremendous and widespread economic impact”.
His comments came after it was announced that major U.S. cruise companies will suspend cruises for at least 30 days.
“All of these developments signal to us the huge exposure our economy faces from the spread of the virus, which has already began to show up,” Minnis said.
He said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest will address the economic and fiscal aspects of the potential fallout in the House of Assembly on Wednesday.
Minnis said Turnquest will outline “a number of the measures we are taking to deal with the tremendous economic impact of this crisis”.
“We are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Dorian,” he said.
“This coronavirus crisis represents yet another risk to our economy and the country’s finances and fiscal sustainability plans. This crisis will have a growing adverse impact on confidence, travel and supply chains across the globe.
“This will affect Bahamian workers and businesses and will have an impact on the poorer and more vulnerable in our country.
“I will be meeting and consulting with major business entities to get their input on our national response; no sector is more at risk than travel. This crisis will have a tremendous and widespread economic impact.
“Tourism accounts for an estimated 50 percent of our gross domestic product, just under 50 percent of direct employment and has a cascading impact across the broader economy.”
Minnis also pledged to keep Philip Brave Davis, the leader of the opposition, informed of the government’s response to COVID-19.
“I hope that if he has ideas he would share them with me so they can be presented in our policy discussions,” he said.
“This is not a time for partisanship. We must work to save lives. We must work to keep people healthy. We must work to preserve our economy.
“Bahamians do not want to see their leaders attacking each other in a crisis. It is my hope that the leader of the opposition and his party will work with us in a spirit of cooperation to keep The Bahamas strong during these times.
“If we all try to fix the gaps, if we all try to come up with strategies to limit community spread, if we all focus on the health of our people, we will do better during this crisis.”
The prime minister said the government will continue to update the public “on a regular basis on the range of health, economic and other measures we are taking to address the many and difficult challenges” posed by COVID-19.
“Even as we prepare and pray that few Bahamians are harmed by this virus, the economic impact of this crisis will be widespread,” Minnis said.
“We are fighting for our health and economic well-being at the same time. As we put our faith in Almighty God, we must also have faith in each other as together we unite to fight this major threat to our health and our way of life.”
As of yesterday, there were more than 153,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 110 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
At least 5,700 people have died from the virus globally.
Locally, various sectors have drafted or are drafting responses to the current crisis. The chief justice has called a news conference for this afternoon to outline how the courts will function in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and a reported case in The Bahamas.