By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced a slight relaxation in COVID-19 rules yesterday, but warned that Bahamians must get used to cycles that involve tightening and loosening of restrictions because the pandemic will be “with us well into next year”.
His press conference came days before the country welcomes visitors and returning residents without requiring that they quarantine for 14 days.
And while some restrictions have been slightly loosened, Dr Minnis could not provide a timeframe for when the country’s state of emergency — currently extended until November 30 — will come to an end.
Dr Minnis announced that all beaches and parks in New Providence and Abaco will open starting on Monday.
“Groups are limited to five individuals and the COVID-19 enforcement unit will heavily monitor beaches and parks,” he said.
He said beginning Friday, an 8pm to 5am weekday curfew will apply to New Providence, Abaco and to Grand Bahama.
Weddings and funerals on Grand Bahama will be limited to ten people, not including officiants and mortuary workers, and starting Saturday, exercise will be permitted in the immediate neighbourhood on weekends from 5am to 9am on New Providence and Abaco.
Health officials are expected to give more information about protocols for the reopening of tourism before Sunday.
Dr Minnis said residents should have sufficient funds to cover the cost of their tests and other COVID-19 expenses that may arise when they travel abroad.
He said food stores may now open from 6am to 7pm in Abaco on Saturdays.
Dr Minnis noted that countries around the world are experiencing a public health emergency that is again worsening, including European countries that fared well earlier in the pandemic.
He said: “The pandemic is far from over. Sadly, the northern hemisphere is likely heading into the worst period of the pandemic.
“With Fall already here and winter coming, colder countries face a very challenging winter.
“More individuals will be indoors in these places. The virus spreads easier indoors where there is poor ventilation,” he said.
“COVID-19 cases are soaring in countries around the world, including in the Americas.
“Experts are saying that the next few months will be a ‘dark winter.’
“In fact, the global COVID-19 public health emergency is worsening around the world.
“There will be many more hospitalisations and deaths in a number of European nations. We must also get used to the cycles of tightening and loosening restrictions.
“Until there is an effective vaccine and the overwhelming majority of Bahamians are vaccinated, we will have cycles where cases go up and cases go down.
“This will occur because the virus spreads easily, especially when we do not wear masks or go to social events, including family gatherings, where the virus may quickly and easily spread.
“When cases go up on a particular island, we will have to increase restrictions if necessary.
“But if cases are low on other islands, they will remain open, with less restrictions. “It is important that we understand that these cycles of tightening and loosening of restrictions are part of life in the pandemic.”
For her part, Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, health consultant in the Office of the Prime Minister, said two COVID-19 deaths were recorded yesterday for a total of 136.
Sixty-seven new COVID cases were recorded on Tuesday, she added, bringing the total to 6,549, with 94 people hospitalised, including 12 in Grand Bahama.
Dr Dahl-Regis said during the pandemic, there have been 100 airlifts across the country, the largest numbers involving Eleuthera, Exuma, Abaco and Grand Bahama.
She said there are 50 COVID-19 patients who are moderately ill at Princess Margaret Hospital, with no coronavirus patients at the hospital’s ICU at this time.
Dr Dahl-Regis said officials anticipate an increase in the number of new COVID-19 tests as the country reopens, adding: “We can still slow the transmission of the virus.”
She said data suggests the country has passed the peak of the virus during the second wave.
Yesterday, Dr Minnis also said due to increased COVID-19 activity in mainland Eleuthera and surrounding communities of Spanish Wells and Harbour Island, the Ministry of Health will dispatch a team to assess the situation, as was previously done for Bimini.