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Opening back up

Due to “positive trends” developing regarding COVID-19 on New Providence, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis advised yesterday that health officials no longer recommend a “hard lockdown” and as such, many businesses will be allowed to reopen effective 5 a.m. on Monday with appropriate physical distancing measures.

This announcement came even as New Providence has seen more cases over the last week than it saw during the week before.

In the eight-day period ending yesterday, New Providence recorded 382 cases.

In the eight-day period leading up to Minnis’ no-notice full seven-day lockdown announced last week Monday, the island saw 296 cases.

It is not clear, however, when the tests that confirmed those cases were actually taken.

On August 4, when a two-week lockdown took effect, New Providence had 312 total COVID-19 cases. Three weeks later, it has a total of 1,029 cases.

The island recorded more cases in that three-week period than the entire Bahamas recorded up to August 4 when the country’s total cases was at 715. 

Faced with significant backlash, the prime minister changed his mind about a seven-day lockdown of New Providence last Tuesday and announced eased restrictions.

He yesterday announced a further relaxation of measures.

At a Ministry of Health press conference, the prime minister said he was “happy” to report on the “positive trends”. 

“But I must say to you, that if the data points to the need for other restrictions in the future to address community spread, such restrictions will be put in place,” he said.

“There is still no vaccine for this virus.”

Minnis said “the very latest data” led to his decision to lift certain restrictions. 

“When we saw the early data on the number of cases here in New Providence, we were certain that there would be a need for additional restrictive measures,” he said.

“Over the last 24 hours, our health team and the University of The Bahamas further reviewed the latest data coming in and that new analysis has shifted the recommendation.”

Measures

New Providence is currently under a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and all businesses except those deemed essential are closed, with few exceptions.

The current measures will remain in place until Monday at 5 a.m.

Minnis announced that restaurants will be able to provide outdoor dining, curbside service, takeaway and delivery services.

Both Fish Fry and Potter’s Cay Dock will be permitted to offer curbside, takeaway and delivery services.

Construction activities and hardware stores will continue as usual.

Other retailers will be permitted to offer curbside and delivery services.

Offices and other businesses will be permitted to operate with physical distancing restrictions.

Individuals will be permitted to exercise (presumably outdoors) between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m.

Beaches will also be opened 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. daily.

The prime minister said the list of businesses and social activities is not exhaustive. Details regarding business operations will be listed in the new emergency order, he advised.

“We will continue to monitor and analyze the data during the course of the coming week,” Minnis said.

“If the data points to it, we will announce the relaxation of some other measures. We are committed to a measured phased reopening of the economy and society, based on specific health metrics.

“It is hoped that this will aid the public to gauge when there may be more relaxed or more restrictive measures.”

Referencing his decision to order an immediate lockdown of New Providence last week and then a reversal of that decision not long after, Minnis said, “As your prime minister, my main responsibility is to protect Bahamian lives. I take this responsibility seriously. The decision taken was based on data available and health professionals’ recommendations at that time.

“I made the order with immediate effect. Right away Bahamians contacted me and said they needed more time. We listened. The lockdown order was amended the next day to give New Providence residents the time they needed to prepare.”

No changes were announced for travel

The latest emergency order bans inter-island travel except in cases of emergencies, for the transport of essential goods or services or where a person prior to traveling undergoes COVID-19 testing and upon arrival on another island submits to mandatory quarantine at a government-identified facility or any other appropriate facility as determined by the Ministry of Health for 14 days.

A citizen or legal resident of The Bahamas who has obtained a health visa issued by the government shall be permitted to enter The Bahamas.

An applicant for a health visa must undergo an RT-PCR COVID-19 molecular diagnostic test. Upon arrival, that person must submit to a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a government facility or any other appropriate facility as determined by the Ministry of Health.

Visitors shall be permitted to enter The Bahamas with a heath visa and must submit to a mandatory quarantine in a government-identified facility or any other appropriate facility for 14 days. Visitors must undergo testing at the end of the quarantine.

Economy

Noting that Bahamians and residents are living through the worst economic crisis in more than 70 years, the prime minister said yesterday he will give a major national address with emphasis on the economy “in short order”.

“We are working on a revised detailed phased plan to boost jobs and economic growth domestically, even as we plan for the reopening of our vital tourism sector, which is dependent on conditions at home and abroad,” he said.

Minnis added that the Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) will deliver its full report in September as planned.

“Even as the ERC is working through its final report, it has provided to my office several interim recommendations and considerations to help focus on the immediate situation,” he said.

“It is essential to reopen the domestic economy as soon as possible, with the reopening of the external economy to follow as soon as feasible given the economic conditions overseas.”

Minnis said government agencies and private sector stakeholders must commit to greater adherence and compliance to established safety standards.

“Based on the ERC’s recommendations, we are preparing a strategy to approve all pending viable private sector and construction projects that are currently under consideration and to fast-track those approvals,” he said.

“The approval and execution of these projects will generate immediate employment and business opportunities for Bahamian contractors and trade professionals.”

The prime minister said the government is accelerating the execution of the budgeted public infrastructure and construction projects, and will pay special attention to the smaller-scale projects that benefit multiple smaller contractors.

“This will allow for increased employment in many vulnerable segments of the economy and benefit a number of Bahamian small firms,” he added.

“The government is also looking at ways to provide special support for the creative community, and further support for Bahamian small businesses and entrepreneurs to provide them with the resources and expertise to be able to showcase and deliver their products to the world.”

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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