By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis apologised yesterday for the distress people experienced when they arrived in New Providence from Grand Bahama on Tuesday and were unexpectedly quarantined at a government designated facility.
He said health officials were overwhelmed by the number of people who departed Grand Bahama after he announced a two-week lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 on that island, with hundreds of people likely leaving Grand Bahama for New Providence on Tuesday.
The Tribune understands that in addition to three Bahamasair flights carrying a total of 199 people from that island, there were eight Western Air flights that flew to New Providence when normally only four Western Air flights leave Grand Bahama for New Providence each day.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Delon Brennen said officials are comparing their numbers to information from flight manifests.
It is not whether there were flights from Grand Bahama to Family Islands but the likelihood that some Bahamians and residents departed COVID-19 hotspots in recent days but were not quarantined by health officials prompted Dr Minnis to stress to The Tribune yesterday that people who visited Florida and Grand Bahama recently and do not have a negative RT-PCR test result should self-isolate for the 14-day incubation period.
“They should self-quarantine,” he emphasized.
“I’m not here to blame anyone and no one should be blamed,” he added during his communication in the House of Assembly. “The virus is here, it’s not going anywhere and we must deal with it and we must always try and remain in front of it.
“Yesterday I made an announcement that we were locking the borders in terms of flights and crafts coming from Grand Bahama to other parts of The Bahamas. I’ve been advised that immediately after such an order, there were boats literally lined up at Grand Bahama, especially at the east end that were moving throughout the family of islands and also attempting to move to New Providence. As a result of that, we were forced with health concurrence to give orders to the Port Authority to ensure that no movement of vessels from Grand Bahama at this particular time to the other Family Islands and New Providence (occurred).
“I’ve also been informed that there was excess passenger load of individuals who wanted to come to New Providence and as a result of that the health system was essentially overwhelmed. The concern the health professionals had at that time was that individuals, and because of the excess numbers of individuals being brought to the capital, many of them would’ve been lost in the system and subsequently migrate and permeate into the society, throughout the communities and some could have possibly been positive which could’ve placed health (officials) in a difficult situation in terms of tracking and monitoring.
“As a result of that, the matter was discussed with health (officials) and an immediate decisions was made to try and obtain as many accommodations as possible and all individuals traveling from Grand Bahama would’ve been taken to such facility as a temporary quarantine measure so that health could’ve done their work in terms of determining where individuals had to be located, making determination to ensure no individuals had been infected. This was all to prevent any form of infection moving out within the community.”
The people who arrived at LPIA from Grand Bahama complained of going hours without food and water. They said there was little communication to them about what was happening.
One woman, Julia Mellor, said she was appalled at the circumstances they faced as she described the flight delays and waiting around for answers. While at the Breezes hotel, she said people were crammed together and social distancing protocols were not enforced.
“I feel like my human rights to information and basic necessities such as food and water have been violated,” she said. “I feel frustrated and disappointed.”
Dr Minnis acknowledged the distress the situation caused.
“Obviously this would’ve caused great distress and duress and inconvenience for many Bahamians because they would not have known that such a measure had been taken,” the Killarney MP said. “But I want to assure them that such a measure was taken to ensure the safety not only of themselves but to ensure the safety and survival of the entire Bahamas.
“Therefore for the inconvenience I would like to apologise to those Bahamians who were definitely inconvenienced. Some may have had accommodations waiting for them and they too would’ve been placed in such temporary facilities until proper health investigation was completed. This was done in the interest of those individuals and in the interest of society to ensure there were no spread within our society. It is important to note that if we are not proactive and if we were at any point in time to fall behind, then we can run into grave, serious situations in that our medical personnel would eventually become burnt out and that unable to function and that sector could run into the possibility of meltdown and subsequent problems that I would’ve discussed previously. We could have had episodes of rampant infections. We would not see it today, we would have continued moving around happily, socialising, some not following orders, others following orders and we wouldn’t have seen it today.
“However, 14 days from today we would see results of today. Therefore the movement was to avoid what could be seen 14 days from today after the incubation period is completed and we could’ve had severe spread throughout New Providence and the Family Islands. Therefore I urge Bahamians that if they truly love their Bahamas that they must continue to follow the health orders, they must continue to wear masks, proper sanitation, social distancing, avoid parties, avoid socialising, avoid large gatherings because if they don’t we won’t see the effects until 14 days from today. What we do today, our discipline, or performance, our not socialising and our usage of sanitation today, how we act today we will see the results in 14 days.”
He added: “There are many out there who feel they could’ve done a better job. In 2022, the Bahamian populace will make that determination and whatever their outcome is, we’ll accept.”