By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
AS he declared The Bahamas appears to be nearing the end of the second COVID-19 wave, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said several relaxed measures will precede the expected end to the COVID-19 Emergency Powers Orders on October 31.
However, the day also saw 151 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed - along with two deaths from the virus.
Dr Minnis said that given global trends the country could easily face a third wave of the virus and urged all to wear masks, social distance and practice proper hygiene. He said specific, partial area lockdowns might be a tactic used in the future to curb COVID-19 spread, depending on the situation.
As he moved a resolution in Parliament to have emergency orders extended, Dr Minnis said commercial and social activities on several islands can now return to normal.
These include Andros, Acklins, Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Exuma, Grand Bahama, Inagua and Mayaguana, with physical distancing and mask wearing protocols in place.
The 10pm to 5am curfew has been removed from these islands, except for Grand Bahama.
In New Providence and Abaco, the provisions under the current Emergency Powers Order will remain in place.
Beaches in the capital will remain open from 5am to noon, but in Abaco they will now open until 10pm daily.
Dr Minnis went on to defend his government’s COVID-19 strategy, hitting out at critics who have said they were not needed and were too harsh.
Among these has been attorney Wayne Munroe, QC; Elizabeth MP Dr Duane Sands and Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine have in recent days also said they will not vote in support of an extension. The opposition Progressive Liberal Party has also said it will not support the extension of the state of emergency.
“There are people who oppose my government for various reasons,” Dr Minnis said. “That is their right. This is a democracy. However, it is unreasonable for any critic to say this is not an emergency and these powers are not necessary.
“That argument is simply wrong. One cannot say that we do not need certain emergency orders and at the same time say that the virus remains very serious. Saying both of these at the same time is wholly contradictory and makes no sense.
“Emergency Powers Orders give the government the necessary ability to act quickly to prevent or lessen viral spread. The provisions in the Emergency Powers Orders have been prescribed as narrowly as possible. No activity by citizens and residents is prohibited or constrained unless required for public health and safety purposes.
“Our health teams survey the circumstances, analyse the data and make recommendations to combat the virus based on the situation at hand. We take that advice and use the emergency powers orders to save lives. Without Emergency Powers Orders, the virus would run wild in our communities killing a large number of people in record time.
“This is how serious this crisis is. That is how infectious and deadly this virus is.”
The softened measures also mean weddings on all islands in the country may be held in a religious facility following protocols and Ministry of Health approved guidelines currently in place for church services, but for Abaco and New Providence, wedding receptions may be held outdoors only with physical distancing and mask wearing protocols.
On all other islands, wedding receptions may be held indoors and outdoors with physical distancing and mask wearing protocols.
Also, on all islands, including Abaco and New Providence, funerals may be held in a religious facility following protocols and Ministry of Health approved guidelines currently in place for church services.
Additionally, in Abaco and New Providence, graveside services may be held with 10 people in attendance, not including officiant and mortuary workers. Repasts (post-funeral gatherings) are not permitted for Abaco and New Providence.
On all other islands, graveside services and/or interment may be held with 30 people in attendance. Repasts may be held with no more than 20 in attendance.
Gyms are also permitted to open in all islands, subject to protocols and guidelines approved by the Ministry of Health. Facilities will be inspected periodically by health officials.
While the relaxation of measures is welcomed Dr Minnis again noted officials could revert to partial lockdown in portions of islands if cases again begin to rise.
He also said: “This government does not like lockdowns. We understand they are hard on family life, they are hard on businesses and individuals’ finances. They are hard on people’s mental health.”
He said when virus cases increase, officials try first to impose other restrictive measures but if cases rise exponentially and virus spread is out of control, there may be no choice but to order a specific area lock down to save lives as most governments have done around the world.
“But thankfully, based on the data at hand we appear to be nearing the end of our second wave of this pandemic.
“… Mr Speaker if each and every one of us would cooperate, stop the late social gathering, those are our challenges today, we would be able to come out of this viral infectious phenomenon very, very quickly.
“Let me be very clear, the second wave is not yet over. Additionally, given global trends we can likely face a third wave.”