Prime Minister Hubert Minnis pleaded with Bahamians not to travel out of the country, as the United States and Europe battle spike in coronavirus cases. Minnis says he fears a third wave of the virus if Bahamians increase their travel.
“As a result of the extraordinary spike in cases in North America and Europe – and the ongoing challenges in the Americas as a whole – as Prime Minister, I advise all Bahamians
not to travel outside of the country at this time unless for an emergency.”
Why it matters
The record number of cases in the northern countries like the United States and Europe means there is significant virus transmission there.
Traveling to a COVID hotspot could cause you to catch it.
These countries have an overwhelmed hospital system which makes it difficult to receive medical treatment.
These countries may quickly change their travel policies resulting in border closures.
What PM says?
“It is exceptionally risky to leave the Bahamas at this time.
“Please, I beg and plead with all Bahamians to stay at home, unless it is absolutely necessary to travel overseas.
Minnis acknowledged the reality of COVID-19 fatigue but asked Bahamians to travel to the Family Islands where travel is permitted while following the public health guidelines.
“I ask Bahamians to spend that money in The Bahamas with Bahamian businesses that employ Bahamians. They will have a good time and will help our economy. We should be careful and sensible when it comes to where we travel. We could have a very difficult third wave if we are lax in our behavior and in our travels.
“If you have to go overseas because of an emergency, please wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, avoid large gatherings, and wash your hands thoroughly and often.”
COVID-19 cases are spiking across the United States. According to a New York Times database, as of Wednesday, more than 11,439,000 people in the United States were infected, and at least 248,400 died.
Opposition leader Philip Davis said he nor members of the Progressive Liberal Party will attend a COVID-19 special meeting planned with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, PAHO representative Dr. Esther de Gourville, and the Government’s Health Consultant Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis–although they were invited.
The special meeting, announced in Dr. Minnis’ national address to the nation on Sunday, was scheduled for today, as the government strategizes a plan to combat the exponential increase of COVID-19 cases in New Providence and Abaco.
Why is the PLP not attending?
In a press conference, Davis revealed that he refuses to attend as he wants all PLP members to be in attendance. He said the invitation was only extended to three members of his organization, although Minnis said, “the leader of the opposition and his team have been invited.”
Davis said, “Three persons are not my team.”
Davis referred to this as conflicting information, thus he rearranged a separate meeting with PAHO for next Monday, October 12th.
What this means
Dr. Minnis in his address on Sunday, hinted at a possible lockdown for areas of the Bahamas where the number of cases continues to rise, adding that the meeting with key stakeholders will outline specific strategies for the way forward.
Minnis purposed that after the meetings, he will brief the nation on the recommendations of our health experts, especially on the way forward for New Providence and Abaco.
However, if Davis and his team are absent from the meetings, they miss an opportunity to problem-solve, discuss, and come to conclusions by collaborating together, particularly if a national lockdown is announced.
Dr. Minnis’ speech was littered with notions of “lockdown” with many viewers sitting on their edge of their seats, waiting for him to announce the new measure for New Providence. But it never happened.
Now many are speculating when a lockdown will be implemented by Minnis.
Here’s five things Minnis said that supports a lockdown is looming for the New Providence and Abaco:
Minnis highlighted that other countries have returned to lockdown measures to combat virus increases
He said, “Some countries have gone back to targeted lockdowns or more restrictive curfews and other measures needed to address the high number of infections, hospitalizations and, sadly, deaths.”
Minnis hinted that lockdown is an international measure used to fight the virus
“If cases rise exponentially and virus spread is out of control, governments often have no choice but to order a lockdown to save lives.
“This has become an international standard and response by most governments around the world, including countries that have generally had a good response to the pandemic.”
Minnis praised the sucess of lockdowns in Bimini and Grand Bahama
“Indeed, the targeted and sustained lockdowns in Bimini and most recently, Grand Bahama, were essential in reducing the number of infections on those islands, both of which continue to have low numbers at this time.”
Minnis painted a grim picture of COVID-19 in New Providence
“One in every 100 residents of New Providence is now infected with COVID-19.
“Sadly, we are now averaging one death per day and our medical facilities have now reached capacity.”
Minnis said PAHO and WHO representative Dr. Esther de Gourville, and Consultant Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis are set to discuss future strategies in a “special meeting” with Cabinet and the Opposition.
“After these various meetings, I will brief the nation on the recommendations of our health experts, especially on the way forward for New Providence and Abaco.”
Covid-19 has thrust the Bahamas in uncharted waters and like the rest of the world, the country has implemented curfews and lockdown measures to contain the spread of the infectious disease.
Attorney Wayne Munroe filed a lawsuit on behalf of 21 people, on the constitutionality of emergency orders, many of whom are business owners negatively affected by the orders, and other individuals charged and convicted for violations of the orders.
Now, two former prominent members of the Bahamas judicial system have ‘butt heads’ in the public domain, over the legality of the lockdown orders.
For the first time, the public has witnessed a fight between two well-respected women of the legal society.
Who are they?
Dame Joan Sawyer
79-year-old Justice Joan Sawyer is the former Chief Justice from 1996 to 2001 and former President of the Court of Appeal, where she served until 2010, when she retired.
Since leaving her post, Sawyer favours talk-shows, delivering fiery rebukes of politicians and their political decisions.
In 2016, she butt heads with Former Deputy Leader of the Free National Movement Loretta Butler Turner and Former Attorney General Allyson Maynard over the gender equality referendum, when Sawyer said she would vote ‘no,’ despite not reading any of the proposed questions.
At the time, Butler said of Sawyer, “What really bothered me and most Bahamians is the fact that persons like Dame Joan Sawyer have reached the pinnacle of their legal career, she retired as the chief justice and the fact that she was able to make such strong pronouncements in the absence of facts, really gives me reason to question the motive.”
In 2017, Sawyer rebuked several government initiatives of the Christie administration such as value added tax and Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival. Dame Joan criticised the festival where women make themselves “exhibits”.
Dame Anita Allen
72-year-old Dame Justice Anita Allen served as Justice of the Supreme Court of the Bahamas in 1995, and was elevated to Senior Justice in 2005. Allen is the former President of the Court of Appeal, having retired in 2017, a position which she has held since 2010.
She succeeded Joan Sawyer and became the second woman to hold that post, and is the current law reform commissioner for the government.
Allen is married to former Free National Movement Cabinet Minister Algernon Allen.
Why the Opposition and Dame Joan Sawyer agree
Since the implementation of the emergency order, the Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip Davis opposed the orders, citing social and economic impact on the country.
Attorney Wayne Munroe, who ran for the PLP in the 2017 election and is vying for PLP nomination in 2020 said, “We continue to say there is no state of emergency and that the emergency regulations are unconstitutional.”
He has not only filed a lawsuit for 21 people against the government, but has since filed a personal action against Dr. Minnis after a group of people were arrested on Tuesday morning for protesting against the immediate seven-day lockdown.
And recently, Sawyer, a prominent voice, has also come out against the orders, referring to the lockdowns as “house arrest” and “detention.”
“By ‘detention,’ I mean, telling us when we can leave our homes, when we can exercise, when we can go to the shops, telling us when we can get married, how and when we can bury our dead relatives, among other things, telling us when we can go to a doctor or a dentist as well as how many of us can go to church at a time, how long we can be in church and so on and so on,” Sawyer said.
“…It (government) has exercised an exorbitant power on the pretext that they are concerned to save lives from this “deadly virus” by detaining every person in The Bahamas — except for persons they have in their wisdom deemed “essential workers,” she said.
Sawyer likened the emergency orders to dictatorial practices of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.
“If your argument is correct, there is nothing wrong with the government inflicting torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on people who have not been charged with any breach of any law let alone the orders of the administration during a declared period of public emergency.”
On whose side is the government?
Dame Allen supports a national lockdown implemented by the government and has called for stricter measures.
Highlighting the exponential increases in cases, she said, “If this (the COVID-19 numbers) continues, our medical capacity will be exhausted and we will all be in trouble.”
Allen then criticizes opponents of the lockdown like Attorney Wayne Munroe and Justice Sawyer, saying, she believes the lockdown is necessary.
Allen said, “The message regarding the seriousness of the situation and the absolute necessity for everyone to adhere to the protocols put in place for our protection is being garbled and diluted by people waving the Constitution and wrongly proclaiming the unconstitutionality of lockdowns, curfews and quarantine during a state of public emergency.”
She continued, “Moreover, if the science warrants a lockdown, and in my view it does, there should be a full and complete lockdown for a week with no businesses open, and a partial lockdown the week after, only allowing for food store and pharmacy runs!”
The next day, at 8pm, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis implemented a 7-day lockdown of Grand Bahama and New Providence, which experienced surging cases.
Minnis in his immediate implementation of the 7-day lockdown said, “Indeed, as noted by leading jurists in our country, the requirement for the constitutionality of various provisions is that is that they are ‘reasonably justifiable in the circumstances of the emergency.'”
“Indeed, our Founders fathers wisely placed in our constitution provisions allowing the Governor General to declare proclamations of emergency. Such proclamations exist to allow the Government to act to protect the people in times of great national crisis.”
Minnis continued, “If the Government did not have the Emergency Powers there would be mass death in The Bahamas beyond the imagination of most. Those who tell you the Emergency Powers are not necessary are unserious and dead wrong.”
The Bahamas is in the midst of a COVID-19 battle, one the country has never experienced.
The deadly virus has tested the government’s ability to balance the economy and health of the nation. Government has made a few unplanned decisions that have rattled public’s confidence in the administration.
The recent 7-day full lockdown with the closure of essential services, is one such decision that has stirred public outrage, which has contributed to a reversal of that order.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis made adjustments to the New Providence 7-day lockdown. Dr. Minnis announced that food stores, water depots, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores will open Wednesday 19th, from 6am to 9pm, until further notice. Food wholesalers and manufacturers are also allowed to open.
He said, “After I spoke Monday night, Bahamians from all walks of life raised concerns with me.
“There is broad understanding of the need to lock down New Providence in order to control and slow the spread of COVID-19; however, it is also clear that families and businesses need more time to prepare.
“I hear you. I understand you and know that in many cases we must make adjustments in the short-term to strengthen in the long run,” Dr. Minnis said.
A public stance of disapproval
Tuesday morning began with demonstrators of Operation Sovereign Bahamas, who met at Windsor Park in preparation to march towards Down Town, Nassau, before they were intercepted by law enforcement officers.
The group of nearly 50 protesters condemned the most recent lockdown as many Bahamians did not properly prepare with food items before its immediate implementation.
Members of Parliament stood with constituents
Minister of National Security and MP for Mt. Moriah Marvin Dames swamped with concerns from constituents, promised to address the competent authority concerning their needs.
In a Facebook post, Dames said he read the complaints from individuals on the recent lockdown and its effects on their households.
“I am aware of how difficult it has been for most Bahamians and their families.
“One thing is true, we are not perfect beings. But the test of a true man or women is to recognize what is best for himself/herself and for those he/ she loves.
“I have noted all of your concerns and will be addressing those most vital concerns with the Competent Authority,” he said.
In addition, MP for Bain and Grant’s Town Travis Robinson said he spoke to the Dr. Minnis to address his constituents’ “frustrations and disappointments” with the recent lockdown.
“Your basic needs of food and water were on top of my list during my conversation with him.
“I am pleased that he was very receptive of my conversation with him…I am satisfied with the pending outcome,” Robinson said.
He said on Tuesday, the Department of Meteorology and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) met with Cabinet to brief ministers on a weather system which is on a current path to the Bahamas by Sunday.
“This is to allow residents who were unable to secure sufficient food, medicine and water to access essential items, and to make the necessary preparations as we monitor the weather system,” Dr. Minnis said.
The Bahamas has had it shares of lockdowns since the rise in coronavirus cases. But this one is different.
Before, Bahamians had access to essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies, while non-essential services remained closed. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were allotted for shopping only.
Now, a 7-day complete lockdown is in effect for Grand Bahama and New Providence where COVID-19 cases have taken a toll.
What is a complete lockdown?
A ‘complete lockdown’ or ‘full lockdown,’ as it is sometimes referred, is the requirement by people to remain at home due to risk of the coronavirus to themselves and others, if they move freely.
All grocery stores, water depots, gas stations and private pharmacies are closed. Only public healthcare, hospitals and private medical facilities are opened for emergencies. Businesses and commercial activities will be closed.Construction will be permitted. International shipping, freight forwarders and domestic freight will be permitted to continue, but goods and supplies must be stored.
Anyone required to be on the streets must contact 311 for permission. Violators will be fined.
Why a complete lockdown?
Health indicators on New Providence show a high number of new cases, increased hospitalizations and increase in deaths.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said if further restrictive measures are not taken to control and to slow the spread of COVID-19 on New Providence at this time, it will take a long time to bring the virus under control.
Dr. Minnis said, “The sooner we bring the virus under control the shorter the time will be to return to few restrictive measures. Unfortunately, too many people are not taking the current lockdowns and health measures seriously.
“Some people are gathering in groups in their neighborhoods. Some are going out when unnecessary. Some are notfollowing health guidelines when out in public. Some are going out visiting friends and family.”
Dr. Minnis added that some people are engaging in socials and parties, and said the virus is spreading rapidly because of the failure of many people to adhere to life-saving and preventative measures.
What would people do who depend on the food distribution program?
Recipients of the National Food Distribution Task Force will continue to obtain food from the specified distribution program on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as previously scheduled.
Only one person, per family is required for pickup of food packages.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force will have lists by zones of all the recipients of the programme who have registered, and will check vehicles to ensure that only one representative per household goes to the specific distribution centre.
Would a complete lockdown guarantee lowered virus cases?
A complete lockdown will allow health officials to evaluate and monitor the spread of COVID-19 on New Providence, and will assist with slowing the spread of the virus.
At the end of the lockdown period, which is August 25th, officials will assess the data to help inform the way forward, and will report on the impact of the lockdown.
The announcement that government provides $1 million dollars per week to the National Food Distribution Task Force for food assistance, was met with shock as many questioned whether or not the large sums of money were truly reaching the people in need.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis revealed that $16 million dollars have been allotted in the budget for food assistance, to ensure those in need of food are being helped during the pandemic.
In its 11th week, it is reported to have helped 27,705 households registered for assistance, representing more than 110,000 people in the country.
Beneficiaries are assisted based on needs–most, moderate, least
The Task Force distributes on a needs-based program and are seeking to help the most vulnerable: the newly unemployed, self-employed individuals whose businesses are adversely affected, senior citizens unable to leave their homes because of the virus, school children who do not have sufficient food and some patients and those who provide them with care at home.
The Task Force will begin to apply criteria to help objectively place people who register into three needs categories.
Most Vulnerable—assistance given every week
Moderately Vulnerable—assistance given every other week
Least Vulnerable—assistance given once a month
Some recipients are happy
Some recipients of the distribution have expressed gratitude while others say they have lost their sense of dignity waiting in line for food.
Joelean Williams joined the long queues at the Pentecostal Baptist Church in Nassau Village on Wednesday. She said, “This is a big help. This is really, really good for the people,” she said as she collected a gift certificate for groceries.
Williams said she has been unemployed since March as her position at a local restaurant was made redundant.
She said this is her first time receiving help by the government’s program. Williams said the assistance would go a long way to meet the needs of her household of eight.
Like Williams, Adrian Forbes said the food assistance helps his family of six, as he has been unemployed for the past two months.
His wife recently started a “small” job caring for a relative.
Forbes said the wait was worth it. “When you want something you have to wait for it. It is a help,” he added.
A hotel worker who did not want t be named, but was left unemployed due to the pandemic said the food package, “means the world to me.”
“All my life I have worked but this is the first time I am experiencing this [situation].I have six [family members] in my house. I was the only one working.
“You have to give God thanks in all things. I am not ungrateful,” she added.
She acknowledged that the volunteers are doing a good job but added that the process was a bit hectic.
Others are dissatisfied with the process
Others have expressed that they are not satisfied with the process but said Miranda Dorsette remains grateful.
The mother-of-three told the Tribune that the situation was depressing.
“I mean I realize they are trying to help us but this is like begging. I am used to working hard for what I get. The food is okay, I guess, but the thought of having to be in a line to get it… the whole thing is humiliating to me. I am doing it because I can’t do any better right now.
“I am in a position where my children’s father is not assisting me in any way and I am in need. I can’t go around breaking the law to provide for them, so I would rather get this and call it a day. I don’t want to come off as ungrateful as that man on the video said, so I say, thank God for it.”
Recipients to use vouchers at small and independent grocers
Dr. Minnis said he asked that the Food Task Force reach out to small grocery stores so that arrangements can be made for food vouchers to be purchased from stores throughout the country.
“We would like neighborhood ‘mom and pop shops’ to participate in, and benefit from this exercise with us.”