Symonette: Beach closure explanation doesn’t add up

St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette yesterday said the prime minister’s decision to close beaches on New Providence and Grand Bahama “doesn’t add up”, as he questioned whether there is an underlying reason for the decision that the public has not been made aware of.

Symonette called for Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis to apply his powers as the competent authority in a more consistent manner.

“Until yesterday morning, you didn’t have any cases in Grand Bahama and you still don’t have any in Nassau,” he said.

“There must be some underlying issue that we don’t understand.”

He added, “I’m a little at nerve’s edge as to why the virus will not find the beach on Eleuthera or the beach on Acklins, but it will find the beach on Grand Bahama and Nassau.

“[T]omorrow, a pile of people are going to jump on a plane and go to a number of our Family Islands to go to the beach. And they’re going to come back to Nassau on Sunday because those beaches are open.”

Symonette continued, “I am not comfortable that we have a full enough explanation as to why the beaches on those islands are closed for that weekend.”

He added, “So, I can have a dinner party on Thursday night at my house and have 20 people.

“That’s what the regulations say. And [I can] go to church and go to a beach in Eleuthera, but I can’t go to a beach in Grand Bahama, Nassau.

“It doesn’t fit in the mosaic of what we’re trying to achieve.”

Symonette questioned whether there is doubt over the ability for policing the beaches.

“Are we saying that we cannot police the beaches?” he asked.

“Is that what we’re really saying? I hope not.”

On Monday, Minnis announced that public beaches and parks will be closed on New Providence and Grand Bahama for the Independence holiday weekend, only a week after they reopened.

The beaches were closed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to prevent large gatherings where the virus could be easily spread.

However, when Minnis announced that the beaches would again close in anticipation of holiday crowds, there had been no new cases of COVID-19 in the country since June 14.

Minnis noted yesterday that two new cases have been confirmed on Grand Bahama. The new cases came just over a week after The Bahamas’ borders reopened to tourists. In an interview with The Nassau Guardian on Monday, Symonette, a Free National Movement (FNM) MP, who resigned from Cabinet last year, also suggested that Minnis has become comfortable with making pronouncements without providing an explanation, and said after months of being under lockdown, Bahamians deserve to know why they are being “cooped up” for another holiday weekend.

A former minister of tourism, Symonette said yesterday the decision to close beaches is a public relations nightmare for the industry.

“We advertised ourselves as a safe environment to say it is pretty safe to come to The Bahamas and have a holiday, therefore enticing people to come to our shores,” he said.

“And then we turn around and say the beaches in Nassau are not safe. That’s a public relations nightmare.”

Symonette also questioned whether tourists are canceling their reservations because of the beach closures.

“So, the question that remains is, have people canceled at the Ocean Club? Are they going home? Are we going to send a negative public relations message back?” he asked

He added, “[W]e have to be consistent. So, we need to start to [say] there will be restrictions on such and such a day. The tourists know they need a COVID test. That’s been publicized, so that’s not an issue. But when they come to these beaches expecting to get away from whatever and not be able to go to [them].”

Symonette also questioned the need for the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, and said that the requirement that restaurants close at 8 p.m. is unnecessarily harmful to businesses.

“I think that we need to look at that 8 o’clock closure of restaurants to allow two sittings,” he said.

“It’s summer, there are later evenings. I think we could probably push that back a little bit.”

Symonette added, “[Tourists] might want to go out for a nice relaxing dinner, and then they’re rushed out.

“I want the government to take a closer look at that because we’ve been progressively opening the country and no increases in COVID.”

In response, Minnis said restaurants can dial 311 if diners are still eating past 8 p.m.

Symonette, however, noted that many business owners seem not to be aware of that.

“Most restaurants are under the impression that they have to close their kitchen at 8 o’clock,” he said.

He added, “Unless people are making a profit, we are not going to hire more people. We are not going to open up the economy and we are not going to get people off national insurance [unemployment programs].”

Symonette added, “There is no doubt the majority of the citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas have been following the regulations, otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are.

“They have been good citizens.

“[W]e cannot allow a few bad apples to continue to cause damage in our community.”

Symonette said that instead, those who break the law should be brought before the courts.

“Deal with them,” he said.

“Because they are what’s ruining it for the majority of us that are law-abiding citizens.”

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