Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced last night that the Ministry of Health will expand its COVID-19 testing this week, predicting that this will lead to an increase in the number of cases in The Bahamas.
“Health officials have been prioritizing testing to individuals with moderate and severe disease,” said Minnis in a 40-minute national address that came as a five-day full lockdown neared its end.
“This is the case because of the real challenges related to testing limitations in the face of the global shutdown. This means that as testing expands, more people will be diagnosed with COVID-19 in The Bahamas, including those with mild symptoms.
“The Ministry of Health plans to expand testing this week. This will result in an increase in the number of cases. Health officials are closely monitoring the case numbers, as this will inform us where we are in the surge.
“As we get a broader picture of the true extent of COVID-19 in The Bahamas, this data should reflect that the case fatality rate is, indeed, lower.”
Field data indicates that “some populations are particularly hard hit” and have higher mortality rates as a result of COVID-19, according to the prime minister.
He noted health officials continue to compile information on the COVID-19 outbreak in The Bahamas.
Minnis said that information “will help to guide our health strategy, including measures like curfews and lockdown”.
“We continue to strategize and to act to manage COVID-19 to the best of our ability to prevent a surge in cases and to prevent the loss of countless lives,” the prime minister said.
There have been 49 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas, so far, with nearly 500 people quarantined.
Eight people, who tested positive for COVID-19, have died.
In recent weeks, the prime minister implemented a number of restrictions — including a 24-hour curfew, a national lockdown every weekend for the remainder of April and an alphabetical shopping schedule — in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 1.9 million people and killed at least 119,000 globally.
“We are making progress,” he said last night.
“Our physical distancing measures, curfews and lockdowns are having an effect, but we still have a long way to go. We must and we will remain vigilant.
“Now is not the time to let down our guard. There will be no complacency on the part of your government. We must remain on full alert.”
He said Cabinet is reviewing a proposed rental assistance program.
Minnis announced that the government will appoint a Food Security Task Force as well as a chairperson “shortly”.
“This task force will ensure that every Bahamian and resident who needs food is provided with adequate food,” he said.
“This is a major and fundamental priority. The task force will also make recommendations to increase food production in The Bahamas, including through BAMSI, farmers’ markets, backyard and community gardens and other ways of producing and distributing food in the short, medium and long-term.
“I will have more to say about this domestic food production in the weeks ahead. Such production will play a significant role in stimulating our domestic economy.”
In recent weeks, fresh produce, cooked meals, and grocery packets have been delivered to those in need on Abaco, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and New Providence, according to Minnis.
He said that within the last week, the Bahamas Feeding Network has distributed $40,000 in food vouchers and at least $10,000 in food parcels.
Minnis said Hands for Hunger has distributed 50,000 pounds of donated food, $5,000 in non-perishables and is budgeting another $20,000 for food vouchers.
“We encourage others to donate food,” he said.
“The Food Security Task force will indicate how such donations can be made.”
Hundreds of residents were forced to wait on lines for hours outside grocery stores last week following a weekend lockdown and the implementation of a shopping schedule.
Last night, Minnis acknowledged that the schedule is “a work in progress,” noting that the government will “continue to improve” it.
“As we continue to improve how the shopping schedule works and balance the need to limit community spread and the need for people to get food, we are temporarily suspending the food shopping alphabetical schedule,” he said.
“Because of the short week we are in this week, the alphabetical shopping schedule will be temporarily suspended effective tomorrow, Tuesday, the 14th through Friday, the 17th of April.”
The schedule, which is only in effect on Bimini and New Providence, will resume on Monday.
Grocery stores will be permitted to open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.
From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., Monday to Friday, seniors and people with disabilities will be permitted to shop.
Minnis said police will be present at major stores to ensure that social distancing is being adhered to.
Effective immediately, during the weekend lockdowns, grocery stores will be allowed to operate on Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., for essential workers only.
Health care providers, police officers, defense force officers, employees of clearing banks and employees of wholesale distributors will be allowed to shop on Saturdays from 6 a.m. to noon.
Minnis said all other essential workers will be allowed to shop from noon until 6 p.m.
Food stores are required to have hand sanitizer available for all individuals entering their establishments.
Pharmacies are permitted to open to essential workers on Saturdays until 3 p.m.
Wholesale bakeries, water producers and wholesale food suppliers will also be allowed to operate during the lockdowns to allow for restocking.
Join the fight
The prime minister made a “strong appeal” for doctors, who work in private practices, “to help us fight against COVID-19”.
“During this hour of great need, I urge more of my former colleagues to join in this fight,” he said.
“You would all remember when the AIDS epidemic hit our shores, many were afraid to touch or be near individuals who were diagnosed with AIDS.
“We, in the health profession, recognizing our oath, we were not afraid. We cared for the patients but we took the necessary precautions. We protected ourselves and at the same time managed our patients.
“I was with you then and if necessary, if I am needed, I will be with you again; after all, like you, I took the Hippocratic Oath. We need every health professional available to fight this grave threat.”