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