By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Abaco's Chamber of Commerce has urged the Prime Minister to exempt some of the island's major cays from the new restrictions due to the presence of tourists and minimal number of COVID-19 cases.
Ken Hutton, the Chamber's president, in an October 7, 2020, letter to Dr Hubert Minnis argued the case for Green Turtle Cay, Guana Cay, Man-O-War Cay and Elbow Cay "to operate without the restrictions of the mainland".
He added: "COVID cases on the cays have not seen significant increases, and they currently have a number of tourists in place. Ferries do not run after 5pm daily so there will be no interference with the mainland curfew."
The relief requested for Abaco's cays was one of eight "exceptions" requested by the Abaco Chamber after Dr Minnis confirmed the reintroduction of weekend lockdowns, coupled with an earlier 7pm curfew start and a mixture of restrictions on businesses, in a bid to halt the surge in COVID-19 cases on both New Providence and Grand Bahama.
Backing the Government's move to bring the number of cases on Abaco, which stood at 157 confirmed on Tuesday, under control, Mr Hutton said of the pandemic: "The threat it poses to life and livelihood must be confronted with intelligent, effective and verifiable strategies.
"The majority of the regulations you announced are just such strategies and we commend you for it. The strategies must also, however, take into account the situation on the ground in Abaco and some of the special circumstances here when compared to New Providence."
As reported by Tribune Business yesterday, Mr Hutton called for construction to be exempted from the weekend lockdowns to facilitate the ongoing Hurricane Dorian recovery effort. "Many people are only able to work on their property on weekend, and the non-governmental organisation community needs to be able to complete critical community projects that Abaco needs and the government has authorized to be done," he explained.
Besides allowing farmers and fishermen to work at weekends, the Chamber chief argued that gas stations and food stores should also be allowed to remain open. "Many in Abaco are still without power and rely on generators which need fuel," Mr Hutton said. "As well, the take-away vendors provide many people the only hot meal of the day since they have no cooking facilities or power to run them."
The Chamber also urged the Prime Minister to allow Abaco food stores to maintain their normal operating hours, with Mr Hutton writing: "Because there are few food stores in Abaco, any reduction in hours causes crowding and massing of people, which defeats the entire purpose of the restriction.
"If anything, perhaps encourage the proprietors to extend their operating hours so there are less people in the store at any given time." Along with permitting residents to go to the beach, Mr Hutton added that the Government needed to allow Abaco's schools to remain open.
"For many Abaco school children this past week was the first week back in the class in over a year," Mr Hutton said. "School is a critical education and social institution for our children. Most Abaco schools do not have the ability to teach remotely. Statistically, COVID infection rates for children are basically zero so there is very little chance of them getting the virus.
"Having children attend school also benefits the community in that it allows families to finally get back to work and re-establish a sense of normalcy to their lives. The effect on the mental health of the children is also a serious factor to consider in that returning to the classroom brings back a routine and level of comfort not felt since before Dorian."
Finally, Mr Hutton urged the authorities to provide Abaco residents with improved information so they can make better decisions with regard to COVID-19. "The information provided is aggregated from the beginning of the pandemic and does not provide an accurate, current ‘snapshot’ of the situation," he added.
"We would like to know symptomatic versus asymptomatic cases, current number of active cases, number of recovered cases, infection hotspots, comorbidities of active cases, etc.