By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Office of the Prime Minister announced that a lockdown will be implemented during the next two weekends as the country recorded a record 65 new COVID-19 cases yesterday.
Twenty-nine new cases were recorded on New Providence, 21 on Grand Bahama, eight on Guana Cay, six on Moore’s Island and one on Abaco.
Hospitalisation numbers have remained stable, with just one additional case added yesterday for a total of 12 hospitalised patients. However, infectious disease expert Dr Nikkiah Forbes warned that “there is no evidence to suggest” the country is experiencing a less severe strain of COVID-19 during what officials say is the second wave of the virus in the country.
“When you see numbers that are surging like this from a strictly scientific view it necessitates putting in place certain restrictions that will stop people from gathering together,” she said. “We continue to give guidance as it relates to the scientific facts. If we continue doing business as usual we can expect cases will increase unless factors contributing to the spread are taken away.”
She added: “It is very concerning that numbers are rising and continuing to do so and that we see there is involvement of other islands throughout the Bahamas. From what we know so far in the outbreak and global experience with COVID-19, there is a portion of people of about 20 percent that might have severe manifestations of the disease. Most people will be mild and there will be others with moderate manifestations that require some degree of supportive care and five percent will be critically ill. As an infectious disease doctor, we must be concerned when we see there is a large number of cases in the country and it behooves us to plan and expand capacity for hospitalization and treatments. We are concerned and we have made recommendations for our capacity to be expanded, as well as sending support where there are larger numbers of cases like in Grand Bahama. Do recall that in the first wave in the Bahamas we were able to flatten the curve but that took 15 weeks and that was in the face of very restrictive measures, including 24 hours curfews and restricted movements. To stop COVID-19 we have to stop coming in close contact with the virus as spread by infectious people.”
Dr Forbes made the comments when contacted by The Tribune hours after Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar eased fears about an impending two week lockdown.
“Right now, we were advised by the health professionals (that) we don’t need to go through a full lockdown,” Mr D’Aguilar told reporters outside cabinet yesterday. “So, for example, this weekend, we will have a lockdown. That’s going to start Friday at 7(pm) and go to Tuesday at 5(am) because of the public holiday. The weekend after that we’re going to have another lockdown - Saturday and Sunday but during the course of the week we’re going to allow commerce to continue and for people to as much as possible go about their ordinary lives but shutting down at 7pm as opposed to 10pm. So, these are right now as you look at the professionals (who) are advising us, that in the rest of the Bahamas, Grand Bahama notwithstanding, we can have that hybrid of lockdown and not lockdown and we’ll see how it develops but if cases continue to grow exponentially outside of Grand Bahama, then there’ll be another review at that time.”
The Office of the Prime Minister said the government will carefully review health data after the two weekend lockdown periods.
“Food stores, gas stations, pharmacies and water depots will be permitted to operate on Saturday, 8 August for the general public from 7am to 6pm,” the OPM said. “Food store workers required to restock after curfew from Monday to Friday and during Saturday over a lockdown weekend may seek permission from the commissioner of police to travel to and from their residence and workplace only. All individuals wishing to leave the country during the lockdown either by air or by boat may do so. Religious services may be held virtually. Live streaming is permitted between 7am and 1pm Saturday and Sunday from a religious facility, provided that no more than ten people participate from the facility. During a lockdown, exercise is permitted within the confines of an individual’s yard only. Construction is permitted on Sunday over a lockdown weekend.”
Although Grand Bahama is in the midst of a two-week lockdown, hardware stores will be open given the threat of a possible storm, Grand Bahama Minister Kwasi Thompson said.
“We know that in Grand Bahama, we are under a lockdown and only certain businesses were exempted and allowed to open, namely food stores, gas stations and pharmacies, but the prime minister has announced that he would allow hardware stores to be opened the same time as our grocery stores and our pharmacies,” Mr Thompson said in a statement. “We are also allowing residents to leave their premises to make the necessary hurricane preparations in the event the storm affects the Bahamas and Grand Bahama.”
Scotiabank, meanwhile, announced that two of its employees at its Freeport branch have tested positive for the COVID-19. “We have been working very closely with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to have all other staff members from that branch tested and in the interim they have been advised to self-isolate for 14 days,” the bank said in a statement. “Our top priority at this time is the health and safety of our employees and customers and we are proactively working with MOH officials to ensure that we adhere to all safety guidelines and best practices. Our Freeport Branch will remain closed until August 7, 2020 in line with the Government’s Emergency Powers (COVID 19 Pandemic) Order (No.3), 2020. We will ensure that the branch undergoes stringent deep cleaning and sanitization prior to reopening in order to safeguard the health and wellbeing of employees and customers.”