By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced that 24-hour weekend curfews and other restrictive measures will take effect for Exuma in light of the recent surge of COVID-19 cases on that island.
He said the surge began following the October holiday weekend and two major social events that were held.
There have been 30 confirmed cases on Exuma in the past two weeks and 79 overall cases.
Twenty-eight people are active cases, two people are hospitalised and one person from Exuma has died from COVID-19.
During a brief address yesterday evening, Dr Minnis said there will be a 24-hour weekend curfew starting Friday at 6pm and ending Mondays at 5am.
“During the weekend curfew, business operations will not be allowed,” he said. “The weekdays curfew, Monday to Friday, will be from 6pm to 5am.
“Commercial activity may continue as normal during the week, except as follows: fish fry, bars, and restaurants connected to bars, will be closed.
“Private and public social gatherings are not allowed. Funeral services may take place at the graveside only and will be limited to ten people, not including the officiant and caretakers. Weddings will be limited to ten people, not including the officiant. Repasts and receptions are prohibited for weddings and funerals. Church services may take place only by virtual means. A maximum of ten persons may provide live stream services from the sanctuary. In person classroom instruction is also prohibited but may take place by virtual means.”
Dr Minnis said beginning today domestic travel by air or sea in and out of Exuma will be prohibited, “except in an emergency and where approved by the director of civil aviation or the chairman of the Bahamas Maritime Authority.”
“Anyone traveling from Exuma to any other island in the Bahamas will be required to have a negative COVID-19 RT PCR test to leave Exuma, except where exemptions are provided for in the emergency powers order,” he said.
Acknowledging the short notice of his announcement, Dr Minnis said his measures are critical in containing the spread of COVID-19.
Exuma’s newly appointed administrator, Margaret Symonette, said yesterday she identified a recent social gathering as the cause of the spike.
In an interview with The Tribune, Mrs Symonette said the social event happened before her arrival on the island nearly two weeks ago.
She said she was informed by residents in the community that many of the people, who recently tested COVID positive, had attended the party.
Officials said 19 new cases were confirmed on the island yesterday.
“I just got here a week or two ago and they said it happened just before I got here. My first time in Exuma,” she said.
“I was told that they had a party in a certain area and these (cases) are stemming from that party,” she said. “They were probably exposed to whoever was at that party.”
However, Mrs Symonette said she could not say how many people attended the gathering, adding that many of them had not worn masks properly.
“I don’t have a count but they said a lot of young people. I understand that some of them had masks on, but the mask wasn’t covering their nose and mouth. They just had the masks below their mouth. They had the masks on, but it was just covering below their chin.”
Mrs Symonette described the rise of cases as “concerning.”
Dr Minnis also addressed a matter that has roiled many Bahamians in recent days: the re-implementation of a 14-day quarantine requirement for people traveling from New Providence to Family Islands. He said this requirement will only be in place for a short time.
“We anticipate that it will be lifted once the domestic health screening survey is implemented, consistent with the international health screening survey,” he said.
The prime minister also discussed Eleuthera. Tight controls on movement have been implemented on that island after a spike of COVID-19 cases. Dr Minnis said all the confirmed cases in Eleuthera are in isolation and their contacts are in quarantine and being closely monitored.
“Despite the recent good news of a possible vaccine in the months ahead, we still have quite the way to go before this pandemic is over,” he said. “A widely distributed vaccine will take sometime.”
For his part, Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper said he does not support full weekend lockdowns for Exuma.
“They are too blunt an instrument for the situation as it stands,” he said in a statement after Dr Minnis’ address. “We are just now experiencing some relief on the tourism front after months of lingering in the economic doldrums. We have international flights now coming in from Florida and North Carolina on Saturdays. And we were experiencing serious interest in domestic travel from New Providence before the quarantine was reinstated. Not only will this damage our brand internationally, but it will further starve Exuma’s economy of vital tourism dollars.”