Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis speaks in the House of Assembly. (BIS Photos/Kemuel Stubbs)
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said Bahamians who travelled to the United States when the borders reopened this month “lacked discipline” and caused a surge in COVID-19 cases.
He said before the borders were reopened, his administration considered prohibiting residents from leaving the country but feared the political fallout of doing this while allowing tourists to move freely in and out of the country. Had residents been prohibited from travelling, he said the decision would have been discriminatory and unconstitutional but would have prevented spread of COVID-19 while boosting the economy.
Dr Minnis said 40 percent of the recent COVID-19 cases are because Bahamians travelled to virus hotspots, a number he expects to increase as more analysis is done.
His comments came before parliamentarians passed a resolution extending the state of emergency to September 30.
“... Governments will be placed in situations where at some point in time they will have to make what they call discriminatory or unconstitutional decisions against their people in the interest of the advancement of their nation. We could not (do that) and the statistics are verifying that if we did, Riu and other hotels would’ve been opened and doing well,” he said.
The Riu hotel announced this week that it will temporarily close on July 28.
Residents and tourists were not treated entirely the same when the country’s borders reopened. Unlike tourists, short-term travellers who left for 72 hours or less were not required to produce a negative RT-PCR test result and on their return to the country many were not entered into the Hubbcat system that monitors people in quarantine. Many were also not placed into a government designated quarantine facility.
Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin criticised Dr Minnis during her contribution to the debate, saying it was the government that “dropped the ball” by letting people travel to the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic and not quarantine them when they returned.
Dr Minnis said: “We demonstrated as Bahamians the lack of discipline in that as our borders were opened there was mass migration to the hotspot despite a warning, we migrated, mass migration both from New Providence, Grand Bahama and to a limited extent Family Islands.
“The case we would’ve heard of Inagua, that was Inagua’s residents who left Inagua, went to Florida, father, the son, subsequently become infected and en route back to Inagua it was discovered they were positive and were subsequently held here in New Providence and managed appropriately.
“No, they did not return to Inagua with the virus. What that demonstrates is the entire Bahamas archipelago travelled to the various hotspots. What that demonstrates, had we made a firm decision to ensure and prevent Bahamians from travelling, we would’ve been in a better position but to make such a decision would have been considered unconstitutional.
“I would have and the government would have been accused of being the most dictatorial government. We would have been and I would’ve been accused of an abuse of power. But power is only abused when used unnecessarily but when it is used for the correct purpose it is not abused. We as a government, we refused, though we thought about it, we refused to make that decision to place a travel embargo on Bahamians and allow others to come in but what would have happened had we done that? The opposition, the people, the media, etc, would have lambasted us for doing that.
“They would not have known what the possible outcome would’ve been. We would’ve been a successful nation but we would’ve been a destroyed grouping. We were afraid to make that decision. We were already being threatened by members of the opposition to be taken to court on constitutional violations so could you imagine what would’ve happened? We made the decision not to make an unconstitutional decision though we would’ve been better off and as a result of the decision that we made, allowing everybody to travel, we are seeing the results today. In today’s world because of how we react and how we respond, that was the correct decision because we would’ve not known that this would’ve possibly been the outcome and it was essential that we know what is the outcome.”