• Minnis said he ‘listened’ to concerns but no answer why no preparation time
• Tropical Storm heading our way part of the reason stores now okay to reopen
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
LESS than 24 hours after announcing a seven-day immediate lockdown for New Providence, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis reversed the harsh measures yesterday afternoon and allowed food stores, pharmacies, water depots, gas stations and hardware stores to open from 6am to 9pm beginning today.
The announcement came in a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister after the government was roundly criticised by residents, the opposition and non-profit organisations and after he faced pressure from colleagues in government following a decision that left many without enough food and water in their homes.
Dr Minnis’ statement said the reversal came after Cabinet was briefed by weather officials on a storm that may impact the country and after residents raised concerns with him. He conceded residents and businesses need more time to prepare for such a lockdown.
His statement came shortly after Susan Larson, head of the National Food Distribution Task Force, said the group hoped the abrupt decision to close food stores would be revisited.
His statement said: “In the past few weeks there has been a disturbing rise in COVID-19 cases in New Providence.
“Sadly, additional deaths have been confirmed and our hospital system is stretched to capacity. In coordination with our public health team and through conversations with community stakeholders, it was made clear that the only way to beat back this deadly virus would be to extend lockdown provisions with more restrictions.
“On Monday 17 August, I made the announcement of increased restrictions for New Providence with immediate effect in order to save lives.
“My first priority is always to protect the health and safety of every Bahamian. However, after I spoke Monday night, Bahamians from all walks of life raised concerns with me.
“From these discussions two things are clear: 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.”
He also said: “Earlier today the Cabinet was briefed by officials of the Department of Meteorology and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) who are closely monitoring a weather system which on its current path may affect The Bahamas by Sunday.
“Given the feedback from community stakeholders and the threat of a weather system that is developing, we are making adjustments to the New Providence lockdown.
“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.
“Starting tomorrow, Wednesday August 19, grocery stores, pharmacies, water depots, gas stations and hardware stores will be allowed to open from 6am to 9pm, until further notice. Food wholesalers and manufacturers will also be allowed to operate during this period.
“The National Insurance Board will resume cheque distributions on Wednesday 19 August at the National Stadium.
“I will provide additional details as it relates to the lockdown for New Providence when I address the nation later this week. NEMA is expected to brief the public on the weather system on Wednesday.
“Your best interests guide my decisions. These are difficult times for our country.
“As you shop for essential items and make preparations, please abide by the public health guidelines. Stay physically distant. Wear your masks. Wash or sanitise your hands regularly.
“We will beat this second wave by working together. And, as your prime minister, I will always listen and make decisions taking your needs, thoughts and feedback into consideration.”
Up to press time last night, an Emergency Powers Order giving effect to the new rules was not released to the public.
Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune earlier yesterday: “Basically the announced lockdown continues with a few adjustments to allow for necessary hurricane provisioning or preparations. We are tweaking the order now.”
National Security Minister Marvin Dames was among the parliamentarians who took to social media to comment on the complaints of his constituents. He said on Facebook that he has written the competent authority to express “the most vital” concerns of them.
Bain and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson also foreshadowed the prime minister’s announcement reversing his decision in a Facebook post.
Last night, Mr Robinson told The Tribune he does not believe a full lockdown should be attempted again in the near future.
“When we look at the culture of the Bahamian people, particularly inner city areas, you’d find that most households are ones that shop every two to three days and then in certain areas in the inner cities they live day by day, they find food on the daily basis to survive,” he said. “You would not ordinarily find an average Bahamian household that has four days or up to seven days or more with groceries that can sustain them. “Because of that culture and behavioural pattern, I don’t know that a complete lockdown, which was suspended, will be feasible in the near future.”
He said his constituency Facebook page received over 300 messages and he got “over 50 phone calls and tons of WhatsApp messages from concerned residents.”
“I’m still trying to filter through and respond to them all,” he said. “It’s been overwhelming in terms of people from my community that have reached out to me.”
He added: “I am thankful that (the prime minister) was humble enough to hear the concerns of the vast majority of Bahamian people, particularly those who live in areas like mine, Bain Town and Centrerville, the two most underprivileged communities in New Providence. This is perhaps one of the toughest decisions he’s had to make in his time as prime minister but I was happy he heard the voices of the people and pivoted as necessary.
“Leadership is about making tough decisions but also having the compassion and understanding to make adjustments where necessary when you have to. He is by all estimation someone who has been faced with tons and tons of issues: Dorian, to this pandemic, to the economic fallout that will be post this pandemic and even right now. He did what was in the best interest of the country.”