While acknowledging that he acted outside his authority, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands offered his resignation from the Cabinet to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday following a controversial decision to allow six permanent residents to disembark on New Providence and quarantine at home in breach of protocol outlined by Minnis weeks after the closure of Bahamian borders.
Late last night, the prime minister released a short statement announcing that he has accepted Sands’ resignation, which is effective today, and thanking him for his service to The Bahamas, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision to allow the permanent residents in was revealed by The Nassau Guardian last Thursday as hundreds of Bahamians, who are stuck abroad, were told they would have to quarantine at a government facility upon arrival to The Bahamas and would have to show COVID-19 negative test results before being allowed in.
Sands wrote, “I refer to the unfortunate controversy surrounding the delivery of COVID-19 test swabs and the landing of permanent residents under what you have termed a breach of protocol regulating the entry to The Bahamas by Bahamian citizens and permanent residents under Emergency (COVID-19) Regulations.
“I accept responsibility for this breach of protocol. I acknowledge that I acted outside of the scope of my authority in this matter.
“My actions were guided by my great desire to obtain the much-needed testing swabs which are in short supply both here and internationally and which are key to our efforts to trace the spread of the coronavirus so as to better focus our responses. I acted at all times in good faith.
“Nevertheless, I acknowledge that my actions have caused embarrassment for which I express sincere regret.”
He added, “We continue in the midst of a most serious pandemic when focused attention should be trained only on how best the spread of COVID-19 might be slowed and eventually stopped.
“I believe that my continued presence in the Cabinet may serve as a distraction from our efforts and hence I offer my resignation from your Cabinet.”
Sands thanked the prime minister for the opportunity to serve the country.
His resignation came one day after Minnis said that protocol was breached when the six people were permitted to disembark.
When asked about the matter last Wednesday, Sands said two permanent residents donating swabs were allowed to disembark earlier that day.
In response to a Nassau Guardian reporter’s question at a press conference the following day, he said he did not know if there were more people who had gotten off the private plane.
The permanent residents brought with them 2,500 swabs for COVID-19 testing, which The Guardian confirmed were valued at $11,250.
The residents allowed in The Bahamas from that private flight last Wednesday were not required to test in advance. They were tested the day after returning — the same day of The Guardian’s story.
On Thursday, Sands said an exception was made for the permanent residents.
He said they did not show any symptoms of COVID-19 when they landed.
Sands also said the plane had approval for the delivery of cargo.
“As minister of health, I thought that this was a matter of urgency. We then received a last-minute and unexpected request for the donors, who are permanent residents of The Bahamas, and were traveling on the same private plane, to disembark,” he said last Thursday.
“The plane was here and we had to make an urgent decision. I made the decision to let the couple disembark.”
He added, “The decisions were made on the spot. I take full responsibility for it. If we had to do it again, perhaps we may have done a few things slightly different.”
While Sands said the decision was made on the spot and that the plane was already in The Bahamas, The Nassau Guardian confirmed that decisions regarding the permanent residents’ entry into The Bahamas were made way ahead of the flight leaving Florida.
It was the prime minister who revealed on Sunday that there were six, and not two people, who disembarked.
Sands’ resignation came after The Tribune published comments from him earlier in the day saying, “I intend to continue my work for the Bahamian people in my capacity as minister of health and I will do it to the best of my ability.”
The prime minister said last night he will make a further statement on this matter today, including who will serve as minister of health.