• Caution the key in decision to ban beaches and retain curfew
• But Sands and Symonette raise questions over govt’s reasoning
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he closed parks and beaches for the Independence Day holiday weekend “out of an abundance of caution” and because “prevention is better than cure”. He said the healthcare system could melt down if he does not make such tough decisions, painting a picture of a country where rare diseases like mumps, rubeola and measles could emerge as immunisation levels drop if COVID-19 cases overcome the system.
“I’m only asking you to sacrifice three days for a healthier and better nation,” he said during a communication in the House of Assembly yesterday, before Parliament debated a resolution to extend COVID-19 emergency provisions.
“…During holiday weekends there is a natural tendency for people to have mass gatherings on beaches and parks. I would urge my colleagues to review what’s happened around the world with respect to beaches and parks and review the possible outcome of what happened in terms of introduction of virus within those facilities and subsequently through communities. Such mass gatherings are where there can be super spreading of COVID-19.”
Dr Minnis also announced in Parliament that two new cases of COVID-19 were reported yesterday morning in Grand Bahama, the first positive cases in the country since June 14. He later said a third suspected case on that island was confirmed to have the disease, bringing the nation’s count to 107.
“Just because we had not seen any new confirmed cases for a while, it does not mean that COVID has gone away from the Bahamas,” he said. “We had stopped the spread of COVID-19. But the virus has not been eliminated and may spread widely and free again based on our individual and collective behaviour.”
While acknowledging that the government has put in place measures to prevent the arrival of guests who have COVID-19, Dr Minnis said the visitors still pose a risk. “If one of them becomes infected, they can shed the virus outside of the incubation period, outside of the 14 days,” he said. “We say they show symptoms at the 14th day, but during that time they can shed the virus, (on the) third day, (on the) fifth day and infect all of us yet they’re normal. We cannot take this risk.”
Some have criticised the government for reopening the country’s borders last week as COVID-19 cases skyrocket in the United States, an action that makes the country vulnerable to a new outbreak of the disease. Dr Minnis connected his decision to reopen the borders to his decision to close parks and beaches, adding that reopening the borders is essential for the economy.
“In order to stay ahead of this deadly virus we are continuing necessary measures,” he said. “Because our borders are now opened, there’s more risk of importing the virus from overseas. There’s a balance, a balance of economy and a balance of life, we must find that balance, there’ll be screaming on both sides, there’ll be economic screaming and there’ll be life screaming but there must be a balance. The reasons we must take certain preventative measures is we want to avoid problems before they happen, and not just react to them.
“Countries and territories are trying to navigate between opening up to allow people to make a living to take care of themselves while at the same time keeping in place certain restrictions to slow the virus. This is an ongoing balancing act requiring agility and quick action based on the best available information at the time from public health experts. We’re trying to protect lives and livelihoods and we have to do both at the same time. It is not either or, it is both, that balance of the economy and that balance of life.
“And the members who are familiar with finance will know very well that we import a lot of our food, our oils, which requires foreign reserves and if we’re locked down and nothing is coming in, our foreign reserves would become compromised at some point in time and our dollar remains on parity with the US based on one component, our foreign reserves, which means if our foreign reserves are knocked down, our foreign reserves continue to deteriorate, our parity is compromised and Bahamians won’t be able to visit the United States or others because the dollar won’t be worth anything so one has to strike that balance. Then if you open too soon, you run into the problem other countries are experiencing now, one must now lockdown.
“When we opened our restaurants we allowed 50 percent occupancy, some other countries started at 75 percent, they’re now reducing to 50, so maybe 50 was the magic word, we didn’t know. Bars and other facilities that are open are being locked down so they are turning back the clock. The Bahamas has been a model nation so far in our handling of the pandemic because we locked down early and are now trying to gradually reopen.”
Dr Minnis mentioned reports of experts finding that in some COVID-19 cases, complications are persisting well after the virus has been shed.
“Some medical experts are wondering about the long-term affects of this deadly and dangerous virus which is very contagious,” he said. “The virus is spreading at an alarming rate in various parts of our Western hemisphere, including in neighbouring countries, and I again warn Bahamians that the pandemic is not yet over. The global health emergency will likely not end until a vaccine is discovered.”