Giddy with power, the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who seems determined to rule by decree, announced in Parliament on Monday evening that beaches and parks on New Providence, Paradise Island, surrounding cays and Grand Bahama will be closed from 10 p.m. on Thursday to 5 a.m. on Monday.
He gave no justification for the decision — at least nothing that resembled a sensible justification.
Minnis said, “I want to remind this Parliament and this Bahamian populace that we are quite aware of the surge of the COVID-19 virus that is occurring in the United States, particularly Florida, Texas [and] Arizona, which I will speak to later.
“We are also aware of what may have contributed to some of the surge. We are taking these matters into consideration, so as to avoid such activities in The Bahamas and possibly of introduction and consequently spread.”
While health authorities in the United States do believe that current spikes are linked to Memorial Day weekend, Mother’s Day weekend, graduation parties and other such events, the decision to close the beaches in The Bahamas is nonsensical and abusive.
Like many other decisions the competent authority has made during the COVID-19 crisis, it is not backed by any science.
In a national address on June 28, a day before beaches and parks reopened, Minnis hinted that they could soon close again.
“Depending on the results of the beaches’ monitoring during this upcoming week, we will make a determination on whether the beaches will remain opened or closed on the Independence holiday weekend,” he said.
Are we to believe that Bahamians have shown such disregard for COVID-19 protocols that all of us and the visitors whom we have invited to our shores must suffer by being made to stay off beaches and parks?
Why does the competent authority persist in treating all Bahamians like children?
It appears that Minnis is enamored by the powers he has during this emergency period — powers that can be extended up to another six months due to the recent emergency proclamation made by the governor general after the government screwed up in failing to bring a resolution to extend the initial proclamation that had been in place since March 17.
Those powers allow him to essentially do whatever he wants. He can play with our civil liberties for months to come if he so chooses.
There is no parliamentary oversight and no real challenge.
Though Minnis insists “these measures are for the ongoing protection and safety of Bahamians and residents”, certain declarations he makes highlight that our democracy is in fact under assault.
No one man or woman should have all this power, and for so long.
It is a dangerous thing, especially when he is not using such power in a responsible and logical manner.
While Minnis has said numerous times that he is being guided by advice of health experts, he is showing dictatorial tendencies. If we continue to accept this protracted abuse of our freedoms under the guise of protecting public health, then some among us could easily start to think that this is normal.
It is not normal.
And it is not what is envisioned in our constitution.
In closing the beaches, Minnis may be taking his cue from South Florida officials who closed beaches for the recent July 4 holiday weekend.
He is misguided, however.
Florida authorities took this action with good reason.
In Miami-Dade County, a record 2,418 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Saturday. Florida, meanwhile, set a new high with 11,458 new cases in a day.
In The Bahamas, the situation is quite different. This is why the governor general’s claim, in his most recent proclamation, that a state of emergency is warranted due to the presence of COVID-19 in The Bahamas, does not hold water. The GG was ill advised in this regard.
In his national address on June 28, Minnis touted his government’s success in containing COVID-19, as he announced eased restrictions.
“Like a number of other countries, we are reopening because we have been successful in arresting the community spread of COVID-19 in The Bahamas,” he said.
The Bahamas has had a total of 104 confirmed cases to date.
No new case has been reported since the last case was reported on New Providence 24 days ago.
There are four active cases and no hospitalizations.
It has been 62 days since a case was recorded on Grand Bahama; and 52 days since a case was recorded on Bimini.
We ask again — what, then, is the justification for closing beaches and parks this weekend?
We submit again — there is none.
What has the so-called “beach monitoring” shown?
Last weekend, we visited two beaches on the western shoreline of New Providence — firstly at the Caves on Friday, where we spent a couple hours watching Bahamians enjoy themselves in a safe and socially distanced manner; secondly, we spent time at Cable Beach Manor on Sunday evening, where the same scene played out.
It was peaceful, it was relaxing, it was a truly Bahamian experience.
Even if other beaches we did not visit were crowded, this does not warrant closing all beaches.
As a colleague observed on Monday, while the Americans who have been permitted entry since our borders reopened were able to enjoy our beaches during their Independence Day last weekend, Bahamians will not be able to enjoy their beaches on their own Independence Day.
The irony of the prime minister taking away our freedom to go to the beach on Independence Day is not lost on us.
St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette yesterday wondered what tourists who came to The Bahamas for the beaches are now left to do.
Symonette also said the prime minister owes The Bahamian people an explanation for this decision.
“After being under lockdown and perpetual order for this length of time, the Bahamian people need a full explanation of why they are being cooped up on a long holiday, Independence weekend, and I think that’s only fair to ask in light of the fact that we do not know what caused him to make this comment,” he said.
Symonette agreed that the competent authority has become comfortable in making pronouncements without being respectful enough of citizens to properly explain the science and logic driving those decisions.
Let’s think about the further illogic of what the competent authority has done.
Minnis seems to be concerned that Bahamians will gather en masse at beaches come Friday. He does not want any beach parties. So, he has decided that he will not allow anyone on the beaches, not just on Friday, but on Saturday and Sunday as well.
Beaches were open on Saturday and Sunday past; what exactly does Minnis expect to be different if the beaches on New Providence and Grand Bahama are allowed to open on Saturday and Sunday coming?
If Minnis is indeed concerned about crowds, does he not recognize that the crowds could gather elsewhere? Backyards are still open, so are pools, street corners and most other places.
At least the beaches provide an open air environment and an opportunity for locals and visitors alike to cool off. This open air space reduces the risk of COVID-19.
If the competent authority indeed has scientific evidence that keeping the beaches and parks open during the coming weekend would be dangerous to public health, what is to stop the spread of the virus in other quarters if everything else is open?
How are pool gatherings or grill-outs any safer?
This is a sad and unfair attack against citizens who have seen their civil liberties taken away over months — sometimes in abusive fashion.
Many who were initially onboard with the prime minister’s COVID-19 measures have long lost trust in the process — and in him.
Many people are without a job, many have endured the stress brought on by the lockdowns and all that has come with it.
The recent opening of the beaches provided for many a release during sweltering temperatures and high tensions.
In a letter to the editor, former Justice Jeanne Thompson observed: “After opening the borders and beaches, without any uptick in virus numbers, and no protests from the doctors, I can only perceive this action as ‘madness’. What will the tourists do? How will the Bahamians cool temperatures and tempers?”
We also wonder.
And we also agree — “madness” is an apt characterization of what we are seeing play out.