PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced Monday that beaches and parks in New Providence, Paradise Island and Grand Bahama will be closed throughout the Independence Day holiday weekend, beginning 10pm on Thursday and ending 5am on Monday.
His action comes four days after Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, the coordinator of the government’s COVID-19 response, said there is no more community spread of COVID-19 in The Bahamas as she explained why officials are not conducting more COVID-19 tests.
Dr Minnis’ announcement sparked criticism across social media. Progressive Liberal Party leader Philip Davis said the decision appeared arbitrary and devoid of a scientific basis.
During a national address on June 27, Dr Minnis announced that beaches in the aforementioned islands and Bimini would be immediately closed if there are mass gatherings. He also said that depending on the results of beach monitoring in the ensuing week, officials would determine whether the beaches will remain open or closed during the July 10 holiday weekend.
Since then, there have been no videos or reports of residents disobeying social distancing rules on beaches and Dr Minnis did not indicate in the House of Assembly Monday that he has received reports of people failing to adhere to the policy.
He said: “We are quite aware of the surge of the COVID-19 virus that’s occurring in the United States, particularly Florida, Texas, Arizona, which I will speak to later, and we are also aware of what may have contributed to some of the surge. Taking these matters into consideration, so as to avoid such activities within The Bahamas and possibility of introduction and subsequently spread, the beaches and parks of New Providence, Paradise Island and the surrounding cays and Grand Bahama will close on the 9th of July at 10pm until the 13th of July 5am on Monday.”
In response, Mr Davis said: “There’s no reason given for his action. You’d expect that all these decisions would be based on some scientific, medical rationale but the beaches are open all week, then you will close it down during the holiday? I don’t get it. There’s nothing to indicate that Bahamians have not been cooperating. Families were clustered, three or four of them at a time, but there was physical distancing. When he said that (in the House of Assembly) I looked at him and said how does it make sense?”
Mr Davis continued: “It’s just also irrational and arbitrary because what is the purpose? Is it to prevent people from going out and enjoying themselves? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to go out once they are practicing the appropriate protocols that are in place?”
The Minnis administration began its controversial plan last week to reopen the country’s borders to international commercial travel even as COVID-19 cases in the United States skyrocket. Some critics blasted the move, saying it puts the country at risk. There has not been a new documented case of the COVID-19 in nearly three weeks and the pace of new COVID-19 tests has dropped significantly.
Asked during a press conference last week why widespread testing is not being done, Dr Dahl-Regis said there is no need for it.
“We do not at this time anticipate widespread testing. We have no community spread of COVID-19 as evidenced in the data I presented,” she said.
Mr Davis said Monday7: “The two of these things don’t align. If there’s no community spread and you don’t have to test, why still have the lockdown, why still have the curfew, and why close the beaches? These things I now believe are unrelated to the issue at hand, which is COVID-19. They need to answer what it is they are doing and why or is it just a case of dictatorial tendencies, I’m doing what I can do.”
Mr Davis questioned the basis of the assertion that there is no more community spread of COVID-19 in the country.
“I don’t know how they determine there is no community spread if this is an invisible enemy where people could be asymptomatic,” he said. “The only way to know if there is spread is if there is testing, so if they aren’t testing, how would they know there is no spread? They are acting only when someone presents with the COVID fever or symptoms so if you don’t have the symptoms you’re not tested but how can I be satisfied about the status of the virus in the country when you’re not testing?”
During last week’s press conference, Dr Dahl-Regis also said the prime minister would “shortly” announce changes to the 10pm to 5am curfew. However, yesterday was the fourth consecutive day where no changes were announced.