Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday ordered that as of today a curfew be imposed across the country and all businesses, with limited exceptions, will suspend operations for a period of 11 days in an effort to fight COVID-19.
“These very strong measures are intended to save lives, to protect health and to aggressively attack the spread of COVID-19. One of these measures is a curfew,” Minnis said during a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister.
“A curfew is hereby imposed extending each night from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. with such exception as may be approved by the commissioner of police.
“This curfew will commence at 9 p.m. [Friday] and already the commissioner of police has exempted those trucks and personnel, tankers and vehicles that are responsible for working with our gas stations and gas facilities.
“We will end the curfew after consultation with medical personnel. I stress that these are temporary measures.”
He said the orders will expire at 9 a.m. on March 31.
Minnis issued the orders in exercise of the emergency powers conferred on him by the Emergency Powers COVID-19 Regulations, 2020, which were tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday.
The prime minister mandated that all establishments, institutions, businesses, offices, stores and organizations suspend operations to the general public except for the following: wholesale or retail grocery stores and farmers’ markets; doctors’ offices, hospitals or medical facilities; pharmacies; gas stations; medical supply establishments; hotels; banks; commercial ports and related businesses; airports; laundromats; drive through or take away food vendors; and construction companies.
Subject to that order, all other establishments, institutions, businesses or offices inclusive of the public service, as may be authorized by the respective permanent secretary, shall work from home and such establishments, institutions, businesses or offices shall maintain only essential staff for the performance of core functions while adhering at all times to social distancing as prescribed above.
Most of the exempt businesses will only be allowed to open between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Banks will be allowed to open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Drive through and take-away food vendors can operate from 6 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. and construction companies can operate until 7 p.m.
Liquor stores and gaming house operations are also ordered closed to the public.
Under the orders, the prime minister also prohibited a wide range of social events.
The orders state that no one can host or attend a private party that includes any person from outside of the immediate household of the house occupant; a recreational or competitive sporting event; a wedding which hosts 10 or more people other than the bride, bridegroom, official witnesses and the marriage officer; a banquet, ball or reception; any social event; a funeral, except 10 members of the immediate family and at least one officiant and essential mortuary staff; or a meeting of a fraternal society, private or social club or civic association or organization.
He also ordered that no one use public bus transportation; mail boat, sailing inter island, except for transport of freight; or inter island private commercial sea transport that is nonessential.
The orders do not affect the armed forces, waste and sanitation workers, hospital and medical staff; or other sectors encompassing the provision of electronic communications, including print and electronic media.
Additionally, the orders do not prohibit religious or educational instruction, worship or other activity by electronic or virtual means; or prohibit individual attendance at a church for private individual prayer while maintaining social distancing.
Asked how the curfew will apply to vagrants and individuals living on the streets, Attorney General Carl Bethel replied, “Shelter in place, wherever it is they would find shelter in the evenings, they must stay there.”
He added, “The principle is the shelter in place, not to mix with other persons, keep yourselves socially isolated as much as humanly possible and I think that that is the best answer I can give at the moment.”
Any person, company or organization who contravenes any order given herein is liable upon summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 18 months or to both.
“If you break our laws, the law is straightforward; you will be arrested,” the prime minister said.
Minnis said he had meetings with the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force about the curfew.
“…I can assure you that they are ready and have already commenced mobilizing their team,” Minnis said.
“The police and the defense force have been advised that if they find themselves in a staff situation, they are authorized all those individuals who are on vacation, who have been retired and can perform their duties, they can immediately report for duties as this is an urgent situation.”
The attorney general said the order will be translated into Haitian creole.
As of yesterday, there were nearly 245,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in at least 160 countries, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
At least 10,000 people have died as a result of the virus.
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Bahamians began to rush grocery stores on Grand Bahama and New Providence not long after that declaration was made.
For this reason, Minnis yesterday sought to “reassure Bahamians and residents that our food and medical supplies are well stocked and there is absolutely no need for panic buying or hoarding”.
“Fuel supplies are also very strong,” he said.
“Propane gas is well stocked as well. Our ports will remain open for freight and cargo. Our airports will remain open. However, the government of The Bahamas strongly discourages non-essential domestic and international travel.”
There have been three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.
Minnis said in order to “boost frontline staff” and to address the threat of COVID, “nurses who have completed their training and successfully completed their examinations will be appointed effectively immediately”.