By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Calls for the prime minister to avoid a "one-size fits all" national lockdown to curb COVID-19's second wave were dashed last night after he imposed more severe restrictions than in the first shutdown.
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business prior to Dr Hubert Minnis' national address that the government should instead opt for the "strategic" implementation of measures that targeted specific islands and "hot spots" where there was a surge in infections.
He argued that such a surgical approach would achieve the government's objectives in curbing COVID-19 while also limiting the "hardship and pain" caused to businesses, employees and families through shutting down much of the Bahamian economy once again.
Mr Myers also suggested that the Government should close the economy down level-by-level based on its re-opening plan, dropping one phase at a time rather than going from 'Level 5 or 4' to 'Level 1' in one go to avoid the shock to business revenues, employee incomes and general economic dislocation.
"There are still pockets where they have no infections, so I hope they don't have a one-size fits all approach," he told this newspaper in advance of the Prime Minister's address. "I hope he lets communities that are COVID-19 free continue with commerce so that they can lead their lives as normal.
"It doesn't make sense to shut down the economy and entire country because you've got hot spots. We've got to be more strategic or we will cause more hardship and pain. That's what I hope he does. We've got to try and keep the local economy going even if the outside economy, tourism, has to be closed.
"We've got to be mindful of that and the health crisis. The key is to find that balance between the science, and the health and safety, and the economy. He [the Prime Minister] should go from Level 4 to three to two to one," Mr Myers added.
"Move strategically back and up through those levels as required depending on what you're testing and what the rate is, rather than go: 'Oh, my God'. Just to lockdown, is that completely necessary? Do a gradual closing.
"Leave construction, some of those businesses to continue to operate... Keep more of the less risky businesses open as long as possible rather than just shutting the door and base it all on science."
Tribune Business was last night told that "Rome is on fire" by one private sector source following the Prime Minister's address, indicating that the business community was reacting negatively to the decision to shutter the economy once again.
However, with the number of new COVID-19 infections continuing to soar, Dr Hubert Minnis last night argued that he had little choice but to act aggressively to both preserve lives and prevent the already-weakened public health system from being overwhelmed.
"The national lockdown will be for a minimum of two weeks. Nearing the end of this period, we will assess the health data, and advise whether a further lockdown period is necessary," the Prime Minister said.
"The extension, relaxation or cessation of the national lockdown will in part be determined by the co-operation of Bahamians and residents. The longer we take collectively to bring this second wave under control, the longer it will take to resume a sense of normalcy."
Food stores, water depots, pharmacies and gas stations will now only be permitted to open to the general public on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7am to 5pm. "The purpose of alternating days is based on health guidelines that strongly demonstrate that limiting movement, and having clear days where there is no movement, helps to minimise the spread of COVID-19," the Prime Minister said.
"Throughout the country, all businesses and offices will be required to suspend operations, with limited exceptions and to have their staff work remotely, where this is possible." Exceptions to this include the commercial banks, who will be able to work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday until 1pm, and the international banks who will be able to operate with a skeleton staff.
"Construction will be permitted to continue, having regard to the fact that we are in hurricane season. This will be permitted Monday through Friday, 7 am to 5pm, and Saturday 7am to 1pm," the Prime Minister said. "However, hardware stores will only be permitted to provide curbside services on Monday Wednesday, and Friday, from 7am to 5pm."