By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
WHILE paying tribute to a deceased Junkanoo pioneer in Grand Bahama this week, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he hoped the community would not organise future parades until the COVID-19 threat subsides.
Dr Minnis extended condolences to the family of Bahamian surgeon and veteran Junkanooer Dr Philip Thompson, who died recently in Grand Bahama. However, he urged the Junkanoo community not to rush anytime soon as it could be "very dangerous."
While in Grand Bahama on Monday to announce an update on COVID-19 emergency orders and easing of restrictions, Dr Minnis said: "I know that members of the Junkanoo community are agitated and are eager to go and to exhibit their skills by rushing. That could be very dangerous for our country.
"Philip Thompson was a very responsible individual and physician. If he was here, he would ask the Junkanoo community to not place the lives of themselves, Bahamians, and the community in danger. I ask the Junkanoo Committee to wait until the time is right or until the pandemic is over."
Although Grand Bahama is seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases, Dr Minnis expressed concern over those who continue to participate in "high-risk behaviour" and activities, such as parties, and festivals, etc.
Small social gatherings of a maximum of 10 are allowed, but he discouraged mass gatherings.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a decision was made in July to cancel all traditional Junkanoo parades, including the Boxing Day and New Year's Day parades.
When contacted on Wednesday for an update, Dion Miller, chairman of Junkanoo Corporation of New Providence, said that nothing has changed. He added that the Junkanoo community has seen a decline in donations from local companies, due to the financial strain brought on by the pandemic.
"The decision has already been made and the decision stands that there will not be any physical traditional parades this year on Bay Street for Boxing Day and New Year's holiday," he said.
"We are still in the process of looking at some virtual experiences; we have nothing finalised in that regard yet; we are working with our partners and with the government to see if it is possible to make something happen that keeps everyone safe and promotes social distancing."
According to the Junkanoo chairman, the decision to cancel the parades is supported by Grand Bahama stakeholders and Junkanoo groups and associations throughout the country.
"They were involved in those discussions, so everyone is under the same purview that there won't be any Junkanoo this year, that includes New Providence, the Out (Family) Islands, Junior Junkanoo, etc."
Mr Miller anticipates that by spring, some progress would hopefully be achieved regarding the virus, such as "a vaccination or some other therapies that would guard against it that would allow a better environment for us to go out and junkanoo, which we love to do."
"We are looking at spring and the year 2021 with a lot of optimism, and just praying it all works out," he stated.
When asked whether they have encountered difficulty with sponsorship due to the pandemic, Mr Miller indicated that it has been a very challenging time for companies to donate.
"Every single entity has been affected or impacted due to COVID. Businesses had to shut down and decide whether they wanted to keep persons employed. All sponsors and corporate sponsors of Junkanoo have been impacted. So, the funding is another element that just is not there this year to make those parades happen," he explained.
According to the Junkanoo chairman, the average Junkanoo group needs about $250,000 to $300,000 to make those parades happen.
"Companies just don't have that funding to invest in Junkanoo at this time, they rather put the funding into keeping their businesses afloat, and keeping employees employed.
"As junkanooers, we understand that, and corporate Bahamas and the government have been assisting us in putting on these parades for so many years, so we accept that the financial situation that everyone is in around the globe, and we look to brighter days in the upcoming not too distant future," said Mr Miller.
Asked whether they would be requesting assistance from the government as a result of the pandemic, he noted that before COVID during deliberations with the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture, JCNP was anticipating that seed funding would be increased from the level given in previous years.
"COVID threw a big wrench into everything this year and so that could not come to fruition this year," he added.
However, he revealed that JCNP has also requested some COVID relief from the government to further assist groups some of the debts incurred over the previous year, as well as assist their members who are out of work and need assistance.
"We have those requests before the ministry and the government, and we are awaiting word…on what they could do to further assist the Junkanoo community," Mr Miller said.