PM doesn’t foresee any more lockdowns

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday he does not foresee any more lockdowns to fight COVID-19, but instead expects to isolate areas of the country where there are high cases.

“No I don’t foresee lockdowns,” said Minnis in response to a reporter’s question on whether a further rise in COVID-19 cases would cause him to revert to lockdowns.

“I think with the excellent job that the health professionals are doing, you must establish a balance between health and the economy. They are able and were able to isolate and determine the areas that are having an increase in numbers and if we can isolate and determine those areas then we can zoom in on those particular areas so as not to impact the entire Bahamas.”

Minnis as the competent authority ordered a series of lockdowns since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in The Bahamas on March 15. The first lockdown commenced on March 20 when the prime minister ordered all essential businesses to close and implemented a curfew.

Minnis also closed the borders to international and domestic commercial travel.

In the weeks that followed, he implemented various other measures including weekend lockdowns and prevented churches from having in-person services.

Government and other authorities have acknowledged the significant negative impact the measures have had on the national economy with unemployment estimated to be as high as 40 percent and a dramatic falloff in government revenue.

Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest told Parliament on Wednesday that nearly $150 million was paid out in unemployment benefits through a number of programs since the beginning of the pandemic.

While most businesses have been permitted to reopen, they may only do so in accordance with strict health protocols. Worship services have been permitted to resume, as has commercial travel, but with strict requirements for COVID testing in advance and quarantine upon arrival in the country.

Many areas of The Bahamas are still under a curfew and the country is still in a state of emergency, which currently expires on September 30.

Asked yesterday whether the emergency period will be extended given the continued rise in cases, particularly on New Providence, the prime minister said, “We will look [and] be guided by health officials, but it’s essential that the Bahamian populace cooperates in terms of masks, social distancing, etc. If we all were to do our part then you’d find that the numbers would go down and the country would do better.

“What we have always been trying to accomplish was that The Bahamas would be recognized as a COVID-free destination and we thought that once we would have accomplished that, our tourist product would have even gone through the roof. The numbers that we have seen yesterday would have been minuscule to what we [saw] in the past and the Bahamians if they did their part we could keep our islands recognized as a COVID-free destination.”

But The Bahamas has not been able to achieve such a distinction.

Prior to the full reopening of its borders on July 1, the country had recorded a total of 104 COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths, with cases reported on only a few islands.

It now has 2,721 recorded cases and 63 COVID-19 deaths with another 10 deaths under investigation and cases reported on most inhabited islands.

The country’s tourism industry remains on life support.

Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar reported on Monday that The Bahamas has seen a significant falloff in visitor arrivals during the first six months of the year – from a record 3.9 million arrivals in 2019, to 1.7 million in 2020.

“This 56 percent reduction in our tourism business could not be avoided, owing to the shutdown of both the cruise and airline industries in late March alongside a recent resurgence of COVID-19 in many of our key markets (Florida, Texas, California and Georgia),” D’Aguilar said.

In The Bahamas, New Providence, which has the largest portion of the population, continues to outpace all other islands when it comes to new cases. Earlier on in the second wave, Grand Bahama had been recording more new cases.

On Tuesday, 72 new cases were confirmed in the country — 58 on New Providence, five on Grand Bahama and nine on Abaco.

On Wednesday, 64 new cases were confirmed – 55 on New Providence, two on Grand Bahama, three on Crooked Island, three on Inagua and one on Mayaguana. 

As he has done in the past, the prime minister yesterday said irresponsible Bahamians are causing the continued surge being experienced.

“We have found instances of individuals who are positive or they were placed in quarantine, they would subsequently turn off the geofencing monitor and subsequently just go about their own business,” Minnis said.

“That’s irresponsible and what they’re doing is placing not only themselves in danger, but they’re placing the entire future of The Bahamas and their families, their kids [in danger].”

While some in the business community and across the country may take comfort in the prime minister’s statement that he does not foresee more lockdowns, others are mindful that Minnis previously made a similar declaration.

Speaking in Parliament on July 23, the prime minister said, “I only want to remind and inform the Bahamian populace that COVID-19 is not going anywhere. It’s going to be here with us until we have developed a vaccine, so we must learn to live with it.

“Our lives obviously will change, but we cannot lockdown, open up, lockdown, open up. That can’t continue and therefore we will have to determine the number and level we can live with. Our behavior pattern will have to change but COVID-19 is here with us until the vaccine is established.”

The prime minister spoke briefly with reporters yesterday after signing the book of condolence for the late Clarice Granger, veteran leader in the Bahamas Girl Guides Association, at the association’s headquarters on West Bay Street near Clifford Park.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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