By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
FORMER Minnis administration Cabinet ministers Dr Duane Sands and Brent Symonette appeared unconvinced yesterday by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ decision to close beaches during the upcoming Independence Day holiday weekend.
In a robust defense of his action, Dr Minnis said he is concerned about what potential mass gatherings on beaches could mean for the spread of COVID-19, especially now that international flights to the country have resumed.
But Dr Sands, who resigned as health minister in May, cited a view of some medical experts that the spread of COVID-19 is less likely at beaches than at other activities which are not restricted.
“The Texas Medical Association published a table of risks going from least to most, the lowest being opening the mail or getting restaurant takeout, to the highest risk being going to a bar,” he said. “Going to a beach was listed as a moderate risk, with a number of things that we do in the Bahamas like working in an office building, swimming in a public pool, visiting elderly residents or friends at their homes, eating in a restaurant, traveling by plane, playing basketball or working out in a gym, all of these things that are allowed, are higher risk than going to a beach provided that the appropriate social distancing and mask wearing when people are not in the water is maintained.”
Mr Symonette, meanwhile, said the country still needs a better explanation for why the beaches will be closed. He said it is public relations problem for the government to advertise the country to tourists as a safe destination, then close the beaches on New Providence, Paradise Island and Grand Bahama.
“We advertised ourself as a safe environment, to say it is perfectly safe to come to the Bahamas and have a holiday, therefore enticing people to come to our shores,” the St Anne’s MP said. “And then we turn around and say the beaches in Nassau are not safe. That’s a public relations nightmare for me. So the question remains is: have people cancelled at the Ocean Club? Are they going home? Are we going to send a negative public relations message back? These are issues on my mind.
“We have to be consistent. If we’re going to do this again, we have to start to say, there’s going to be restrictions on such and such a day because tourists know they need a COVID test, but when they come to these beaches expecting to get away from whatever and not be able to go to them (that is a problem).
“COVID, if it is such a disease that it will affect your eyes, your liver and whatever we heard this morning, it doesn’t stop working at 10pm, it doesn’t all of a sudden go to sleep at 5am and it doesn’t necessarily not work on a beach in Eleuthera and work on a beach in Nassau. It doesn’t in my humble opinion add up, unless there is some underlying reason that we haven’t heard.”
Mr Symonette added: “…I’m a little nerve edged as to why the virus will not find the beach on Eleuthera or the beach on Acklins but it’ll find the beach in Grand Bahama and Nassau. So tomorrow a pile of people are going to jump on a plane and go to a number of our Family Islands, they’re going to go to a beach, and they’re going to come back to Nassau on Sunday because those beaches are opened.”
Mr Symonette questioned if the government is concerned that beach activities cannot be policed.
“At some point we have to dive and get to the finish line,” he said. “I see this current regulation as the wind shifted direction quickly and you made an adjustment. I think we need to make sure that we correct the course properly and get back on course…Are we scared to court marshall a few and let the majority of the army suffer? There’s no doubt the majority of citizens have been following the provisions, otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are. They’ve been good citizens and they’ve had a good general in charge in terms of the member for Killarney.
“But we cannot allow a few bad apples to continue to cause damage in our communities. This is where I have some problems with the way we govern in our country, both political parties. We passed the cell phone law. How many people have you seen (driving while using a cell phone)? We haven’t enforced it and that is one of our fundamental problems in our country today. We got police on every corner coming up Bay Street, four and five in every corner. There are no shops opened, they’re closed. We’ve gone and put red lines in banks where you shouldn’t go across this area so are we saying we cannot police the beaches? Is that what we’re really saying? I hope not. We have some bad boys. Then the issue is, bring those people before the court marshall. Deal with them because they are what’s ruining it for the majority of us that are law-abiding,” Mr Symonette said.
Dr Sands also questioned the number of COVID-19 PCR tests the country is performing. Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, coordinator of the COVID-19 response, said last week officials are not doing more tests because there is no more community spread of the virus.
Dr Sands said the average number of tests for countries and territories in the world is 110,000 tests per million.
“The Bahamas to this day has done 6,272 tests per million,” he said. “In comparison, the Cayman Islands has done 383,000 tests per million. Bermuda, 126,000 tests per million. Barbados, 29,000 tests per million. The United States, 117,000 tests for million. The greatest of all, Turks & Caicos. In the early part of this pandemic, they couldn’t do their own RT PCR testing and they would send their tests to the Bahamas. As of today, the Turks & Caicos are testing at a rate of 21,252 tests per million, the Bahamas at 6,272 tests per million.”