Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis speaks in the House of Assembly.
By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
THE country “is at war” with the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced on Wednesday as he revealed the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country have risen to three.
Announcing that Governor General C A Smith issued a proclamation of emergency on Tuesday, Dr Minnis pledged to do all in his power to protect the Bahamian people from the threat.
His comments came as he outlined sweeping measures under an emergency order and accompanying regulations tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. Dr Minnis also took a hard-line stance on the spread of “fake news,” which he said could foster violence, panic and a run on financial and health institutions during this crisis.
Under the new regulations, it would be a crime to publish or cause to be published in traditional media or social media, information that the person knows or suspects to be false.
Dr Minnis said the two latest infections were confirmed on Tuesday evening and were found through contact tracing of the first identified COVID-19 patient. He said household members of that first identified case had travelled to countries with known community spread of the virus, including Canada, Dubai and Trinidad.
“These household contacts have been quarantined and samples taken for testing,” he said. “Other contacts, including healthcare providers, are being investigated to determine their level of exposure and risk. A total of 30 contacts of the COVID-19 positive patient have been identified.”
Noting the unprecedented situation the country is in, Dr Minnis said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is a threat not seen in the lifetime of most people alive today. The world is at war with this virus.
“As prime minister, as a medical doctor, I will do everything in my power to protect the Bahamian people.”
He also said: “We are at war with this virus. As prime minister and as a medical doctor I will lead this fight with all of my strength and determination.”
Under the new regulations, a health officer can order that a person suspected of COVID-19 infection be detained or be isolated. The regulations also allow the prime minister to revoke or suspend all permits for the use of public open spaces in any particular area, or an entire island, or the country as a whole in the interest of public health safety.
The prime minister may also prohibit the assembly of two or more persons in a public place in any area specified in the interest of public health safety. The regulations, among other measures, also give the prime minister the power to institute a curfew.
Dr Minnis also hit out at “malicious misinformation” spread on social media which he said can cause mass panic.
“Such fake news may cause widespread panic that prevents citizens from following directions designed to protect their lives during a crisis. Under these regulations, no person shall publish or cause to be published, posted or re-posted over any media platform, inclusive of social media, any purported news or report or purported statement of fact, knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect the same is: untrue or false; or may incite public fear, panic or ethnic hatred,” he said.
Dr Minnis said the new measures will be painful for the whole country, but stressed the importance of such draconian policies.
“We have a country and a generation to save. It is going to be difficult but all things come to an end, and this crisis will also end,” he said.
• See Thursday’s Tribune for more on this story.
• You can read the Prime Minister's speech in full HERE