By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE normally busy streets of Nassau were eerily silent Friday night after a national curfew officially came into effect in an effort to fight the COVID-19 threat.
After 9pm on Friday, streets where persons once roamed freely appeared deserted while popular restaurants and nightspots were closed.
Instead, the streets were heavily patrolled by police officers, who actively combed the streets in search of persons contravening the new emergency orders as issued by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis on Thursday.
Under the orders, Dr Minnis mandated residents in the country remain inside their homes until March 31 between 9pm and 5am. Persons are also barred from attending recreational or competitive sporting events and other social events.
Noting that the measures are necessary to ensure the safety of all Bahamians in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson urged members of the public on Friday to adhere to the guidelines as issued by government officials.
But while the majority of residents in the capital obeyed the law, there were some who defied the order. Members of the media were permitted to canvass the streets along with police.
One man, who The Tribune found walking in the Grove community, told police he was on his way to a nearby store to buy a Vitamalt.
Another resident, who was stopped by officers while walking on Wulff Road, said: “I am looking for a job. I ain’t care.”
There were also instances when officers also had to flag down vehicles and question drivers about their reasons for not being at home ahead of curfew.
One individual, who was stopped by police, claimed he was coming home from a shift at the hospital.
“I was heading home. I just came from Doctors Hospital on Blake Road,” he told officers.
“…. I did ask for the officers them if I could call them if I get stop on the road. Y’all could call them to find out and verify (sic).”
Other people stopped after curfew gave similar stories to police, pointing to work as their reasons for not being at home after 9pm.
Only essential workers or those whose businesses are exempt from the restrictions can commute during curfew, however they must get permission from police.
Earlier on Friday, Commissioner Ferguson said people needed to comply with the law to preserve the public’s health.
“I want people to take this very serious and this is not a dolly house and we take this very very serious and people ought to take it extremely serious (sic),” he told reporters minutes ahead of Friday’s curfew.
“It’s really for one’s own health and we have to respect the health professionals and the order that is given by the prime minister, certainly the police and the defense force will carry it out to the T.
“There will be no exceptions to the rule. I don’t want anyone trying to sneak and trying to ask permission to go someplace…So, I urge Bahamian people to cooperate with the police and there’ll be no issues, if you cooperate.”
But, for those who do not abide by the law, the commissioner was firm that they will face the consequences.
“We will carry out the order and we will carry it out to the T. It’s a curfew and I’m sure that there are many smart people out there and they know the definition of curfew. Stay home – 9 o’clock, stay in until 5am in the morning,”
The Bahamas has joined the list of countries around the world who have implemented strict regulations to prevent the spread of the easily transmissible novel coronavirus.
In addition to the curfew, Dr Minnis has also ordered most business operations, with the exception of a few, along with jitney services to be suspended.
However, videos circulated on social media early Friday, showing several non-essential businesses and bus drivers still conducting day to day business.
Speaking on the matter to reporters, the police chief said: “I understand today that some persons took the opportunity and were trying to sneak to open places.
“The order is very very clear: non-essential businesses stay closed. Health is more important than money and people have got to understand that and if they continue to understand that they will be friends of the police.”
The commissioner did not say whether those individuals were arrested, instead suggesting some people were given warnings given the early stages of the order.
However, he noted: “This is new to the Bahamas and police were going around and making sure that persons are educated and sometimes, people might miss it and we also play that role in making sure that people fully understand what it is.
“Now, once you are told then, there’s no exception.”
Asked about what persons should do in cases of an emergency, Commissioner Ferguson advised them to contact the RBPF’s “special line.”
“We have a special line that we enacted today,” he said.
“The number is 311 and that rings in the command centre and so any advice that persons want, they can ring that number and we will give them advice.”
It is not clear how many RBPF officers will be utilised during these exercises in the coming days, but Commissioner Ferguson noted police will be assisted by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
Currently, there are four confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country. However, health officials have previously said that number is expected to increase in the coming days