Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis has reiterated the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) general support for the measures the government is taking in an effort to contain COVID-19 in The Bahamas, but called on the Minnis administration to allow liquor stores to operate, and also objected to the decision to close Bahamian borders to Bahamians.
“The spirits industry should be allowed to operate in the manner as food stores and take-away restaurants,” Davis said in a statement.
“This will save the jobs of many who have been laid off, while easing the added pressure on law enforcement officers to police these establishments.”
While food stores and pharmacies are allowed to operate under the emergency orders, liquor stores are prevented from doing so.
In the days since the prime minister announced that decision, numerous flyers have circulated on social media of businesses purporting to still offer liquor for sale, some through deliveries.
The closure of liquor stores has proven controversial.
The decision to block Bahamians abroad from traveling home is also controversial.
“On the issue of the latest travel restrictions imposed under the Emergency Powers Orders, the PLP has taken the position that Bahamians abroad should be allowed to return home, even if mandatory self-quarantine for a period of time becomes the condition of their return,” Davis said.
In his statement, Davis also said the PLP is concerned about the poor.
Thousands of Bahamians have lost their jobs over the last week as the tourism industry came to a standstill and numerous businesses have been ordered temporarily closed.
The poor are expected to be hit especially hard during the crisis.
“We think that there are some measures which need to be taken to address the social needs of our people in this emergency and to ensure that everyone has food, income protection, mortgage and debt relief and rental support, while we are going through this emergency,” Davis said.
“As the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis intensifies, we will continue to call for economic relief for the most vulnerable and marginalized among us who continue to be hardest hit by this crisis.”
Davis added, “I suggested to the prime minister to negotiate a reimbursement plan for the payment of salaries by hotel employers to their displaced workers to avoid interruption with their salaries.”
The prime minister also recently indicated this is something his government is looking into.
Davis added, “Some of the qualifying conditions for NIB benefits should be revisited as workers in the retail sectors continue to complain about access and eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. The economic relief package to small and medium sized businesses should also be revisited to include public grants to stave off any further stalling of the economy.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest recently said the government is allocating $10 million to provide for temporary unemployment benefits to those individuals who would normally not qualify for the social safety net from the National Insurance Board (NIB).
Turnquest also announced in Parliament earlier this month the government is setting aside $4 million to provide food assistance and social support for displaced workers directly impacted by the virus, through the Ministry of Social Services.
These food assistance vouchers of $100 every second week will be targeted primarily to persons within the hospitality industry who are facing reduced work weeks, he said.
This allocation will allow for up to eight weeks of benefit payments but may be adjusted according to need, according to the minister.