By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
RESIDENTS in New Providence and Abaco will be placed under strict movement restrictions, featuring a 7pm daily curfew and full weekend lockdowns until the COVID-19 situation sees improvement, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, pictured, announced yesterday.
The 7pm curfew will begin tomorrow and last throughout the holiday weekend, ending Tuesday at 5am.
Following this, every weekend both islands will go into full lockdown mode – Fridays at 7pm to Mondays 5am –- and every day the curfew will be 7pm instead of the 10pm curfew that has been in effect for several weeks.
As a part of government’s enforcement efforts, Dr Minnis said all fines for breaching health protocols, except for the mask violations, will be doubled.
He said to encourage compliance with public health protection measures, there will be an amendment to the Emergency Powers Order that causes businesses to be closed for 14 days on their second violation of the protocols.
Dr Minnis explained that a business will be fined for the first violation, but on a second offence the business would be ordered shut.
During these weekend 24-hour lockdowns, only essential services, including the uniformed branches, customs and immigration departments, public health services, sanitation services and essential utility services will be permitted to operate.
No social gatherings will be allowed, Dr Minnis said, adding this will be strictly enforced in order to reduce and control the spread of COVID-19. There is now a confidential hotline for citizens to report people hosting social gatherings. The hotline number is 702-9967 through -.
Speaking in the House of Assembly yesterday, the prime minister said there are urgent challenges on both islands. Despite this, he said the opening date for the tourism sector remains set at November 1, adding that officials have set specific goals for the next 14 days.
“We face urgent challenges here on New Providence and Abaco,” Dr Minnis said.
He spoke as many of his Cabinet ministers were absent from the sitting because they are in quarantine after coming into contact with Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira who tested positive for the disease this week.
“The persistently high case numbers – particularly on New Providence – have placed immense strain on our healthcare system and our medical professionals.
“Our hospitals are full. Medical teams have been pushed to their capacity. If there is further deterioration in the COVID-19 situation on our most populated island, we risk a collapse of the healthcare system.
“My government uses science and data and listens carefully to the recommendations of experts to guide our policies. We also consult with various stakeholders to get their feedback and to discuss the policies we are considering.
“This is the worst crisis The Bahamas has faced in its modern history. We are living in an unprecedented global emergency. Each day is an emergency and we have to constantly make adjustments, day in and day out, sometimes, on an hourly basis. This is going to be our reality for some time.
“Anyone who tells you otherwise does not understand this moment in history.”
He continued: “Today, the current situation in New Providence and Abaco requires new restrictions in order to reduce infections and, most importantly, to save lives. Sadly, we are now averaging one death per day.
“In deciding on these restrictions, we have balanced the need of our people to make a living, along with the serious public health concerns of the moment. Nobody likes or wants complete shutdowns or full restrictions.
“We seek to implement what is reasonable and necessary for a period of time in order to reduce sickness and death. When these goals are achieved and cases are reduced, we remove these measures so that people may get back to a greater level of normalcy in their lives and livelihoods.
“Health officials are setting a goal with targets and timelines that would measure the impact of the restrictive measures and the likely success of mitigating the transmission of COVID-19 in New Providence and Abaco over the next 14 days,” Dr Minnis also told Parliament.
“The ultimate measure of success would mean that the number of new cases is no longer increasing, hospitalisations are decreasing, a reduction in the need for ICU care and a decrease in the number of COVID-19 related deaths.
“The success of these measures will inform whether more restrictive measures are needed or if measures can be relaxed. The measures I have outlined have no effect on air travel. There has been no change to the current travel regime.
“The opening of the international tourism sector remains set for November 1, 2020.”
Further restrictions mean the only other movement during weekend lockdowns beside essential services, will be for one hour of worship services on Saturdays and Sundays between the hours of 7am and 1pm.
Food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, construction sites or laundromats are not permitted to operate during the full 24-hour weekend curfews.
Dr Minnis said food distribution by the National Food Distribution Task Force will be tailored to take place during weekdays.
Beaches and parks in Abaco and New Providence will also be closed beginning Friday and only virtual learning is permitted for students on both islands.
Sea and airports will continue to operate and there will be no interruption to flights.
Additionally, during the week, religious services may continue based on the Bahamas Christian Council guidelines approved by the Ministry of Health.
Churches may also open for individual/private prayer during the week. However, other restrictions regarding funerals and weddings will be enforced.
Dr Minnis said health officials have recommended reverting to previous protocols.
As such, in addition to the officiant and the undertakers, 10 people will be permitted to attend a funeral, which may now only take place at the graveside. Wakes and repasts will not be permitted.
As far as weddings are concerned only ten people will be permitted at a wedding, while wedding receptions will not be permitted.
Exercise is permitted in a person’s neighbourhood Monday to Friday, between 5am and 7pm, but exercise on the weekend may take place only within a person’s yard.
Gyms will once again be closed.
Consistent with the international guests using these facilities, Bahamians and residents seeking to book at hotels in New Providence and Abaco will be required to have negative COVID-19 RT PCR tests.
And there will be no indoor or outdoor dining in New Providence and Abaco for now.
Where take away services are being provided, enforcement monitors will ensure that there is no congregating either indoors or outdoors by patrons. However, hotels will be allowed to offer outdoor dining to guests.
As it pertains to retail sales, this will only be allowed by kerbside except for food stores. For all other retail, customers are not permitted to enter stores, while gas stations are not permitted to provide in-store services.
As he closed his address to the House of Assembly, the prime minister made an appeal to social media influencers to rally support of the COVID-19 protocols.
“Let me close by making a strong appeal to social media influencers, to social media gurus, to do all you can to encourage adherence to the proper health guidelines and preventative measures and to encourage the spirit of ‘we are in this fight together’.
“I say to the social media gurus and those who live on social media, spread the message of unity. Create songs of unity, song of encouragement, song of remembrance that there should be no gathering.
“I say to the young entrepreneurs out there (that) this is your opportunity to do your part. Create t-shirts with slogans and messages. Let’s fight COVID together.
“United against COVID and every Friday I encourage all Bahamians throughout the length and breadth of the country to wear t-shirts with the slogan ‘anti-COVID’, or ‘let’s fight COVID’.
“Let’s declare Fridays anti-COVID t-shirt day. The message must be loud and clear so that everyone understands that we are at war. The world is at war.
“We are all at war against COVID, a virus that we cannot see and a virus that does grave danger and causes death,” Dr Minnis said.