By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced yesterday the country has officially moved into Phase Three of the government’s reopening plan, reducing the national curfew and allowing non-essential storefront businesses to open with essential staff.
While moving a resolution in Parliament to extend the country’s state of emergency until June 29, Dr Minnis said as a result of the progress made against the COVID-19 threat, the country will be advancing to phase three. Dubbed the “the new norm”, phase three allows for more restrictions to be relaxed on exercise, worship services and certain businesses in the country.
Beginning on Tuesday, Dr Minnis revealed all islands without COVID-19 cases will be allowed to resume normal commercial operations.
This comes after residents in the Family Islands criticised the government for not giving Exuma, Eleuthera and San Salvador the greenlight to resume commercial activities, despite having no COVID-19 cases.
However, despite these newly implemented freedoms, certain restrictions will still remain in place for some cleared Family Islands.
The closure of public parks and beaches, for example, will still be in effect for Bimini, Eleuthera, Exuma, Harbour Island, and San Salvador. This also applies to New Providence, Paradise Island and Grand Bahama.
However, Dr Minnis said public parks and beaches will be allowed to open on other remaining islands with no COVID-19 cases, starting Tuesday.
For New Providence, Grand Bahama and Bimini, Dr Minnis said worship services can now be held in sanctuary on Saturdays and Sundays in adherence to health and safety protocols from 7am to 1pm, starting June 6.
Non-essential storefront business and in-store operations, including clothing and jewellery stores, will also be allowed to operate 9am to 5pm weekly, starting Tuesday.
However, Dr Minnis firmly stated: “I wish to be clear, restaurants, except for curbside and deliveries, bars, gyms, hair salons and barbershops, movie theatres, cultural facilities, and entertainment facilities (will) remain closed on New Providence, Grand Bahama and Bimini.
“I assure restaurant operators, hair salons and barbershops that we are working with the National COVID-19 Coordination Committee and industry partners to finalise protocols for operations.”
During yesterday’s address, Dr Minnis also made amendments to the weekday curfew guidelines, noting that starting Tuesday, the 9pm to 5am curfew will now come in effect for the entire country, replacing the 24-hour curfew.
However, he said the weekend lockdowns will continue for the entire country and will also apply for the upcoming national holidays. However there are some relaxations.
“During the weekend lockdowns exercise will be permitted in your immediate neighbourhood from 5am to 9pm,” he said.
During the week, people can exercise outside of curfew hours and are not confined to their immediate neighbourhoods.
“Regarding the upcoming Whit Monday holiday and Labour Day holiday, the weekend lockdown will apply to both days. For the Whit Monday holiday, the 1st of June, and the Labour Day holiday, the 5th of June, food stores will be able to open for the general public from 6am to 7pm.
“Food takeaways, drive-throughs and restaurants offering curbside and delivery services will also be permitted to open from 6am to 7pm.”
Dr Minnis also made the decision to expand operations for certain businesses. For example, law firms, justices of the peace and real estate agencies will now be allowed to operate until 5pm.
He said: “Additionally, financial services, inclusive of accounting services, may operate with physical distancing and sanitisation protocols between the hours of 9am to 5pm.
“Now that the government has liberalised non-essential retail, the following retailers may now open to the general public between the hours of 9am to 5pm, specifically suppliers of cleaning chemicals and fabric stores.”
He continued: “Auto parts stores, including mechanical work servicemen may operate on all islands Monday through Friday, between the hours of 7am and 5pm.
“…Gaming houses will be allowed to open with physical distancing and sanitization protocols, effective this coming Tuesday.”
Dr Minnis also relaxed restrictions on weddings, funerals and graduations in the country “with the approval of the competent authority”, noting that no more than 30 people will be allowed to attend.
This phase also allows for national examinations to take place.
Despite these new relaxed measures, Dr Minnis warned that Bahamians must continue to follow the advice and recommendation of health professionals in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Even as we reopen, we must remember that we are living in a new normal, in which we must continue to practice: physical distancing, proper sanitization and wearing masks,” he said.
“If we do not collectively observe these measures and community spread widens, the country may have to revert to earlier phases.”
There was one new confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country yesterday, bringing the total to 101.
The government is aiming to restart commercial travel on or before July 1.