By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The prime minister yesterday declined to give timelines for re-opening the Bahamian economy as he unveiled a six-phase strategy for achieving this objective.
Dr Hubert Minnis, in unveiling the staged approach recommended by the National COVID-19 co-ordinating committee, said The Bahamas’ progress through the six stages will be determined by “metrics and advice by the healthcare professionals”.
His plan showed that The Bahamas has a long way to go to achieve the full re-opening of its economy as, based on the details unveiled by the prime minister, it remains firmly in Phase 1A - the first of the six phases, or curfew/lockdown mode.
Reaching 1B, the next phase of the re-opening strategy, would permit businesses to offer pick-up and delivery services if they are able to do so. Home, hardware and auto parts stores will be able to open for five days per week via online and “curbside” services, while New Providence’s construction industry would also be allowed to re-open.
Phase 2, involving “expanding operations”, would allow all businesses to open on Family Islands where COVID-19 is not present. Businesses that “can scale up” to offer delivery and pick-up services will also open, along with services, healthcare and manufacturing companies that can maintain social distancing.
The third phase, described as “beginning the new normal”, would allow “non-essential” retail stores to open with critical staff only, and all necessary health measures - masks and social distancing - in place. Restrictions on weddings, funerals and social gatherings would also be relaxed.
Hair care and beauty salons would re-open in phase four, provided they have the necessary protective equipment, along with offices. Restaurants, gyms, movie theatres and entertainment centres will also be permitted to open with the necessary social distancing and wearing of masks. Domestic travel will also resume.
The fifth and final phase would see The Bahamas’ borders open for international travel and tourism resume. Public transportation will also restart.
However, Dr Minnis warned: “As we look and plan to open back up we cannot establish fixed timetables that say: ‘We will do this thing on a particular date, and that thing on another date’. The timetable depends on metrics and advice by healthcare professionals.”
Acknowledging that The Bahamas will have to live with the threat posed by the COVID-19 virus, he added: “The reality is that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future even as our number of cases - and those around the world - begin to stabilise and even decline.
“For the immediate term at least, we will need protocols and a strategy that will allow us to re-open our society and our economy in a way that protects the health and well- being of Bahamians and residents. We must establish and adhere to a way of doing things that will allow us to open back up in a responsible manner.
“Such re-opening will be gradual and deliberate. At each step, proper health and physical distancing protocols will be mandatory and will be enforced.”
Dr Minnis reiterated his call to the newly-appointed Economic Recovery Committee, co-chaired by acting financial secretary, Marlon Johnson, and Providence Advisors chief executive, Kenwood Kerr, to think “boldly and creatively” in charting a new course for the Bahamian economy.
“This is not the time to be timid. This is the time to be bold. This is the time to be courageous,” he charged. “We are in a new era, so we must think in new ways and think outside of the narrow confines of what is necessary or possible.
“What are needed are ideas that can generate economic activity and trade, and a pathway to those ideas that is doable.” Dr Minnis promised to protect local manufacturing, adding that the local face mask industry could be worth some $6m to $9m per year.