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Shutdown: Pm To Unveil Package Of Drastic Measures To Stop Virus Spread

It was all very quiet in Downtown Nassau yesterday.
Photo: Terrel W Carey Sr/Tribune Staff

It was all very quiet in Downtown Nassau yesterday. Photo: Terrel W Carey Sr/Tribune Staff

UPDATE: THE LATEST NEWS ON THE COVID-19 CRISIS CAN BE FOUND HERE

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PRIME Minister Hubert Minnis. (File photo)

Report leaks out before Minnis speaks

AN apparent draft of the government’s proposed emergency bill to tackle the coronavirus crisis leaked late last night.

The very detailed document captured the wide-ranging powers the government would have in an emergency. It was leaked hours before Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis was expected to give his address in the House of Assembly. The document, the Emergency Powers (COVID 19) Regulations, appeared alongside an unsigned proclamation of emergency declaration and a Parliament resolution.

The draft says the prime minister would have the power to prohibit the assembly of two or more people in a public place in any area specified in the interest of public health safety.

Where isolation has been imposed, he would be able to require the closure of all educational or religious organisations that cater to the general public in specified areas.

He would be able to establish a curfew, ordering everyone within an area to remain within doors between specified hours.

It would also be an offence to assault, obstruct, hinder, resist or use threatening or abusive language against an authorised person executing his or her duty, according to the draft.

The document says: “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 that the same is untrue or false or may incite public fear, panic or ethnic hatred.”

According to the draft, health officers would be empowered to keep people in isolation if they believe a person is or may be infected with the coronavirus and the government would be able to require essential services, including water for public use.

The government would also be able to waive rules governing how goods and services are procured.

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Senior Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis will today announce extraordinary social distancing policies that businesses, churches and social groups must comply with as the country fights potential spread of COVID-19, according to Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Delon Brennen.

The policies will be “consistent with measures” applied to schools throughout the country, he said, and will be enforceable by law enforcement officials. Dr Brennen could not say when the measures will take effect. 

The Tribune understands the prime minister will table an emergency powers bill to cover health, economic, social services and national security issues.  Acting on advice from top healthcare professionals, he will forbid gatherings that do not ensure people are kept at least three to six feet apart, Dr Brennen said. 

The measures will see The Bahamas join a growing list of countries taking unprecedented steps to prevent spread of the easily transmissible novel coronavirus, a disease that has burdened healthcare systems of even some developed countries.

Ministers throughout the government are expected to outline key policies affecting their portfolios, with close attention paid to the government’s economic response to the crisis. 

The Bahamas has just one confirmed case of COVID-19, a 61-year-old New Providence woman with no recent travel history, suggesting community spread of the disease. However, Dr Brennen said an enforceable social distancing policy is needed to “minimise acute rise in numbers of infections.”

Some businesses have already started implementing distancing measures: Royal Bank of Canada and Lowe’s Pharmacy, for example, are limiting the number of people allowed into their buildings at the same time. 

Countries like Jamaica have limited the number of people who can gather together in a setting. But Dr Brennen said this approach does not accomplish social distancing goals as precisely as limiting how closely people can be in contact with each other. 

“If you say a number like a limit of 100 and you put 100 people into a 20 by 20 room, there is no way to say those people will be more than six feet away from each other, though if you put them in a stadium they will be further apart,” he said. “The number of people at gatherings is not our concern––how far people are spaced is the bigger issue.”

Dr Brennen said businesses should have staff work from home or in less crowded office spaces. Churches are being discouraged from having large mass services.

Dr Nikkiah Forbes, the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme director, said social distancing polices will help “flatten the epidemic curve.”

“That would give us the opportunity to slow down the infection and when you slow down infection, you do not overwhelm the ability of the country to respond,” she said yesterday. “We don’t know the future but there is a lot we can do today to keep ourselves, families and country safe. The story of COVID-19 in The Bahamas is going to depend on what we all do and what we do today in terms of prevention measures and how seriously we take them. We can learn from other countries that have widespread transmission that if we cannot continue business as usual we can flatten the curve.”

Dr Brennen said the Ministry of Health’s surveillance team has made 30 contacts of the 61-year-old with the coronavirus self-isolate. He said officials are going to their homes or teleconferencing some of them to make sure they are where they should be.

“We go and check on the persons, we check their temperature…any suggestion they are not adhering to the self-quarantine we have ability to use Ministry of National Security resources,” he said. “We haven’t had to do that for the most part as of today.” He added that at least 20 people in the country have been tested for the coronavirus.

Meanwhile Dr Forbes emphasised what residents should be doing to prevent spread of COVID-19. “There has to be hand-washing, not touching your face, keeping distance of at least three feet between you and other people. That’s an arm’s length, you shouldn’t be able to touch. Avoid gatherings where it can be avoided and if it cannot be avoided, there should be one person for every two seats. If you are sick, stay home. 

“You can get guidance from the phone hotlines. If you’re sick, there are measures. We are calling it self-isolation. That means stay in the home by yourself. If possible, use a bathroom that is for you. If that is not possible, use the bathroom after everyone else and clean the bathroom with a disinfectant. There should be one part bleach to ten parts water. If you’re coughing, put your tissues in the bin and wash your hands afterward. Don’t cough into your hands. Clean high-touch surfaces. If you get sicker and think you need to see your doctor, please call your doctor ahead of time,” she said.

The Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 hotlines are: 376-9350, 376-9387 and 376-9357. Doctors Hospital has also launched a COVID-19 hotline: 357-5708.

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 3 months, 2 weeks ago

PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis will today announce extraordinary social distancing policies that businesses, churches and social groups must comply with as the country fights potential spread of COVID-19, according to Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Delon Brennen.

What has taken him so long!

He's weeks behind on this and as a result more lives will be lost than need have been lost when all is said and done.

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DWW 3 months, 2 weeks ago

i respectfully disagree. 1 single case is not cause to shut down teh entire country.

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joeblow 3 months, 2 weeks ago

... there is one CONFIRMED case in a person who did not travel recently. This can only mean that the government has not tested specific people this person had to have contact with. She could not have gotten the virus from herself. Within 48 hours of the first positive test there should have been at least one other case confirmed if they were doing their jobs properly. So at a minimum this country should have at least TWO confirmed cased NOT only one!!

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 2 weeks ago

you missed the point. Mudda is saying why did the planning take him so long.

Planning for an eventuality doesn't mean the event will happen. It just means if it does happen you're ready, everyone knows what to do and most importantly, noone panics.

Everyone is panicking. There was no planning.

We've been hearing about this thing since January. It clear the planning just started last week. Two weeks ago the Minister of Tourism literally said the Bahamas might be able to benefit from the virus. The Minister of Tourism. If The Minister of Tourism could say that 2 weeks ago, it's clear there had been zero discussions in parliamdnt or cabinet about the possible fallout. The Minister of Finance was out to lunch. I personally don't believe "all" of the hysterics are necessary, but ok, less people heating up the place. In 20 years they'll be studying how the whole world dissolved into panic. Lack of planning and lack of information causes fear and panic. Fear and panic causes gridlock.

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tetelestai 3 months, 2 weeks ago

DWW, come on man, don't swallow up the rhetoric. You honestly believe that there is only 1 single case in The Bahamas? Stop it! I agree with mudda, who normally is the definition of "hyperbole", but, in this instance, he is correct. Social distancing policies should have been implemented from once we saw that the disease was immediately north of us (Florida), immediately west of us (Cuba) and south of us (Jamaica). No excuse for not doing so...none!

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proudloudandfnm 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Are these measures for Nassau only or all islands.

How can a detail like that be left out? Come on Tribune! Do better!

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bogart 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Indeed the 3 feet spacing will be a challenge when one has to consider the people having to join lines or wait at locations inside or outside at just about every outlet to pay or collect or other transactions. Perhaps there should be greater use of electronic communications where necessary perhaps an store outside entrance numbering system collected by customers dropping contact in box at entrance collected by store and calling in customer waiting in car etcetc.

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jade47 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Are US citizens able to fly into Marsh Harbour

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sheeprunner12 3 months, 2 weeks ago

It is good to see that the Prime Minister has the onions to bring this forward ……… The only regret is that it was not used during those serious Cat5 hurricanes in the past.

We cannot wait until Armageddon arrives to establish State emergency law and order when needed.

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 2 weeks ago

The documents were leaked from the PM'S office?????

I suggest the planning is immediately removed from the PM's office and placed in a more secure location (as was done for the marijuana report). I suggest the janior's mop bucket. Put the mop on top of it. Noone in the office will touch it.

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bogart 3 months, 2 weeks ago

...More secure filing cabinet is the one with Bahamian entrepreneurs having applied for Crown Grants or waiting to have a Crown Land processed to do business...mabye there is space in the drawer for Bahamians seeking jobs.....other cabinet with the Ragged island screaming for help....there is secure space in filing cabinet with dust on reporting unpublished Canadian firm audited on BoB and investications....other secure drawer at bottom with FOIA...lots of spaces to hide the documents....

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 2 weeks ago

ah you're right. nobody will think to look anywhere near those applications

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John 3 months, 2 weeks ago

This is starting to look like an upside down cart. And if this government tries to implement forced testing and forced medications then run in the bushes like the Haitians. They can’t tell you on the one hand that the general population is safe that intr drastic, draconian measures that violate your rights and your person in every way. Whose agenda are they following?

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bahamianson 3 months, 2 weeks ago

what was the address about? Did I miss something?

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Where were you??? Didn't you hear the PM tell us he's a doctor...again. Apparently he's looking forward to putting on his white coat.

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TalRussell 3 months, 2 weeks ago

If i be telling lies, imprison me to the maximum jail sentence of Life!
What could've been more on display than when the all who conspired up in the PMO - did knowingly knew that the signatory on the OBAN document was an HOAX.
Ironically, this all was orchestrated under the watchful eye of the exact same prime minister, who is now so eager to imprison any and all amongst the PopulacesOrdinary - for daring be peddling they own [[questioning the government]] HOAX'ES. Can't make this stuff up. Just, can't that it wouldn't be until much later before an entire Colony came to learn that the entire contents contained in the OBAN document was too a well planned HOAX!

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sheeprunner12 3 months, 2 weeks ago

For all of you who are poking fun at PM Minnis …….. Just imagine if Gravy Davis was giving that same speech this morning ……… Nightmares

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm too afraid to postulate what could possibly be worse. I asked that question in 2017.

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TalRussell 3 months, 2 weeks ago

To the contrary, Comrade Circus clowns poke fun of themselves under the big red tent.They expect the [[audience]] PopoulacesOrdinary to laugh at them. Yeah, no?

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