By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A FURTHER relaxation of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ emergency COVID-19 restrictions is expected to be announced today as officials revealed they have been surprised by the numbers seeking to travel back to the Family Islands.
COVID-19 response coordinator Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, asked during a press conference yesterday about phases two and three of the government’s reopening plan, said her team shared its recommendations with Dr Minnis and he is expected to announce some changes as early as today.
This comes as the emergency powers orders were amended yesterday so some businesses and people now have new permission to operate, including law firms, real estate agencies and justices of the peace on weekdays between 9am and 1pm. Hardware, lumber, plumbing, home and hurricane awnings and protection businesses will be allowed to open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 8am and 8pm. Construction is now permitted throughout the country between 7am and 7pm.
Health officials also revealed that they have been overwhelmed by a number of inquiries related to inter-island travel.
They said they received over 900 queries concerning this on Wednesday, the first day the process began, and got more than 1,000 queries overall. Officials said 17 people from the Disaster Management Authority were assessed at the South Beach Clinic and allowed to go to Abaco yesterday.
During a national address on Sunday, Dr Minnis announced the introduction of a COVID-19 travel card to facilitate inter-island travel. He said each person will be required to be examined by a doctor and given a travel card if approved. The evaluation will include a risk assessment via a questionnaire to determine a person’s level of risk, plus a possible psychical exam to determine presence of COVID-19 symptoms.
Amid furore over the failure to reopen Eleuthera, Exuma, San Salvador and the Berry Islands to normal commercial activity, Dr Dahl-Regis said officials have several considerations to make before recommending the reopening of commercial activity on an island.
“We have been monitoring implementation of public health measures on those islands,” she said. “We are looking at the inter-ministerial surveillance of those islands, to look at the traffic flows to the islands and we’re getting particular guidance on that matter. The third is the response of the local team. Many on the local team are asking us to phase in (reopening) because of the traffic that is occurring on the island, particularly on pleasure vessels. We use that guidance and we’re planning that if these measures remain or impact the no new cases for a particular period of time we will certainly recommend that they be considered for reopened for commercial activity.”
The number of COVID-19 cases in the country remained at 97 yesterday.
Dr Dahl-Regis also revealed that the latest COVID-19 case in the country, a 50-year-old man, was a missing contact who had to be tracked down by law enforcement.
“This person was known to health (officials),” she said. “He is the contact of a family member, contract tracing was initially challenged admittedly because he went back to work and then disappeared. Surveillance was assisted by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Emergency Medical Services and I’m pleased to report to you that he is in a mandated government quarantine facility.”
She also stressed that though numbers are not growing rapidly, the pandemic is not over and urged people to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.