Trying times ahead

With Finance Minister Peter Turnquest’s worst case projection of $1 billion in losses from the COVID-19 fallout, and Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar stressing that we have to “grasp the reality that there will be no tourists”, Bahamians were given a sober short-term assessment of the pandemic’s economic impact during yesterday’s House sitting.

A Proclamation of Emergency was signed by the governor general Tuesday, and with it comes sweeping executive powers and a suspension of some constitutional rights.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis outlined the emergency powers delegated to him for a period of 14 days, but did not bring to Parliament orders giving effect to any of those powers — indicating that some powers may be utilized and others may not, while stressing that quick action in the COVID-19 fight must be taken.

As such, Bahamians were left uncertain of what any new plans of action would be with respect to border control, social distancing protocols and with it, the continuation of business, religious and civic operations.

Jamaica, which recently instituted a COVID-19 disaster declaration, implemented new travel guidelines this week, that require travelers from countries with community spread of the disease and have instituted quarantines and restrictions of movement, to submit to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.

Barbados, which confirmed its first two COVID-19 cases this week, reported that both individuals came to the island from the United States.

The U.S., which, together with Canada, has agreed to close their shared border to all non-essential travel, recorded over 100 COVID-19 deaths and over 7,000 cases yesterday — figures officials there said were changing “by the hour”.

Canada had 655 cases and 10 deaths as of yesterday.

Minnis gave no indication of plans to change the country’s travel, quarantine or screening policies for visitors and Bahamians traveling from the U.S. or Canada.

Our country’s public health officials have been performing a yeoman’s task on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle, and though details have been provided about quarantine facilities and procedures for New Providence, the same has not been definitively announced for Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.

For the benefit of Bahamians and residents, it is critical that officials state what the public health provisions and protocols are for these islands, and how a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case, therein, is to be handled.

Turnquest, meantime, announced several fiscal measures to counteract anticipated hardship for hospitality workers, businesses and those diagnosed with or under quarantine orders for COVID-19.

As the constitution provides for the suspension of constitutional rights under an emergency proclamation, we take no issue with the proclamation, and trust that the powers, thereto, will be used wisely and in the best interest of the country.

Government must be singularly focused on the immediate task of minimizing the rate of COVID-19 transmission, and must steadfastly guard against executive overreach.

Much emphasis was placed by Minnis on his upset over the sharing of what he deems as “fake news”, as well as the online sharing of the nation’s emergency proclamation on the day it came into effect.

Though the viral sharing of unverified or false information is a worldwide problem, Minnis’ warning of “suffering” for those he called “fake news gurus” is unhelpful language during a period when constitutional rights have been suspended.

The enemy in this battle is COVID-19, not those whose commentary or online postings displeases the prime minister.

The United Nations (UN) has urged member states that, “emergency declarations based on the COVID-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals”. It should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health.

“Restrictions taken to respond to the virus must be motivated by legitimate public health goals and should not be used simply to quash dissent,” the U.N. said.

We encourage all Bahamians and residents to act responsibly in the midst of this trying period for our country, and expect government to do the same.


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