By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
OPPOSITION Senator Fred Mitchell was on the defensive yesterday in the face of criticisms of “bad judgement” due to allegations he did not “immediately” quarantine upon arrival in Grand Bahama following a trip to the United States.
Photos circulated on social media yesterday showing the Progressive Liberal Party chairman wearing a mask underneath his chin at a Grand Bahama restaurant. Emergency Powers Orders dictate a quarantine period of 14-days upon return to the country from the US.
The date the pictures were taken is not known and Mr Mitchell would not comment on the photos. However, his trip to the island this week was called into question after a clip of him being interviewed by a news team at Grand Bahama airport was circulated on social media.
During that interview, Mr Mitchell said he visited Grand Bahama for several reasons including to test the COVID-19 protocols in place there and to show support for residents one year after Hurricane Dorian devastated homes and businesses. Mr Mitchell also said he wanted to view the government’s post Hurricane Dorian effort.
In a separate interview with The Nassau Guardian on Wednesday, Mr Mitchell said he was in quarantine in Grand Bahama.
“I landed and there was an interview team and I did an interview,” Mr Mitchell told the paper. He said he tested negative for the virus before returning to the country and that he went to his hotel after leaving the airport. He maintained that he continued to follow the rules and protocols.
However, yesterday, photos circulated of Mr Mitchell seated in what appeared to be an outdoor dining area of a Grand Bahama restaurant.
Asked about the photos, Mr Mitchell told The Tribune he would not comment any further on the situation.
But in a video posted on Facebook page Fred Mitchell Minute by Minute, the former member of Parliament blamed the criticisms on Free National Movement “trolls”. He did not address the photos.
“Overnight the trolls of the FNM were in a feeding frenzy, which has caused the Bahamian press to start calling me also in a frenzy about my visit here to Grand Bahama. I do not propose to enter that game and to make any specific comments beyond what I said at the airport,” Mr Mitchell said in the video clip.
“It is clear why I came here. It is clear the circumstances under which I came here. It is clear what my view is of the law. I claim no special privileges. Apart from that I have no specific comment.
“The authorities are aware that I am in The Bahamas. This is a Bahamian island. I am a Bahamian legislator and I claim no privileges beyond that, Those are the facts and I urge people to stick to those facts.”
He went on to criticise the state of Grand Bahama, suggesting there should have been more done since Hurricane Dorian’s passage one year ago.
FNM Chairman Carl Culmer used the situation to criticise Mr Mitchell in a statement yesterday.
“The PLP consistently puts politics over the people,” Mr Culmer said. “That’s how they governed during their last disastrous term in office. Their interests were always more important than those of hardworking Bahamians.
“Fred Mitchell put politics over the people yesterday when he returned to The Bahamas after a prolonged stay in the United States. He landed in Grand Bahama and rather than immediately heading into quarantine, as the COVID-19 protocols call for, Mitchell was seen giving an interview to ZNS News. It is disappointing that the chairman of the opposition party would conduct himself in this manner.
“Mitchell’s conduct shows politics and seeking power are the things foremost in his mind. The PLP’s chairman clearly thinks he is better than the people. To him there is one set of guidelines for regular Bahamians and another for him.
“Embarrassed by media questions, I see that Mitchell now says in an interview with The Nassau Guardian that he is in quarantine. He should not have done the interview and immediately gone into quarantine. That would have been the responsible thing to do. We hope Mitchell learns from his error and is more responsible going forward.”
Emergency Powers Orders now in force say that for inter-island travel, prior to the visit, a person must have a negative test result. Once they arrive at the destination, they must quarantine at a government facility considered appropriate by the Ministry of Health.
This does not apply in respect of an emergency, as the operator of an aircraft or vessel transporting freight and passengers, and in regards to travel among certain islands: Chub Cay, Harbour Island, Long Cay, Long Island, Ragged Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador and Spanish Wells.
The chief medical officer, or someone she designates, can exempt a person traveling from a Family Island to New Providence or Grand Bahama from having to comply with the testing requirement.
However, that person shall be required to submit to a mandatory quarantine at a government facility at his or her own expense.